Voice Actor Travis Willingham: I Love Anonymity
Travis Willingham is a voice actor, but he is not as well known in the video game community as Laura Bailey, his wife, or Troy Baker, his best friend. That may soon change, however, as Willingham is co-starring in inFamous: Second Son with Baker and Bailey. Not only is publisher Sony allowing the cast to tell people they are in the game — actually quite unusual in the game industry — they also asked the trio to host a panel at the Penny Arcade Expo last month to promote it.
Baker became an “it” figure in game acting after receiving significant publicity for his roles in Bioshock Infinite and The Last of Us earlier this year. Willingham witnessed this process firsthand, which gave him some perspective on how actually being acknowledged by name by the media and the gaming community might change his life.
Specifically, he knows that it won’t, because he says that playing the lead role in a high-profile, big-budget game is and always will be nothing like being an actor whose name is on a movie poster.
“There’s always been this conversation of ‘will voice actors ever have this notoriety or celebrity that other actors get in other media,’” Willingham told me as we sat in a Los Angeles burger joint. “My opinion is no.”
“I don’t think we’ll ever get to the point where you’ll see a video game with some actor’s name on the front cover like you do in movies*…I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing. I, for one, love anonymity. Really. We get to work on projects that we play ourselves [as gamers]. We get to work for companies we’ve grown up reading our entire lives, like Marvel and DC, which is just masturbatory for us.”
Willingham, like most folks who work primarily as voice actors, isn’t limited to one particular medium; he has worked and continues to work in animation as well, both Western and anime. His work history is more diverse than one would expect from the average screen actor’s filmography; he’s gone from playing Love Aikawa in Bleach to Thor in Avengers Assemble to the anthropomorphization of the BSAA in Resident Evil 6 and on and on. In all, he has 158 credits listed on IMDB across movies, TV and games, and because voice actors are often not credited for their work in games, that number does not fully represent his body of work.
“We’ve been afforded this great ability to camouflage ourselves as whatever we want, where we’re not limited by our face our body type, our accent or the way our voice sounds,” Willingham said, describing what he sees as a major key to a successful voice acting career. “If it’s easy to pick you out, some companies don’t want to be hamstrung by that. They want to create something new or something bold or fresh. The last thing they want to do is get someone they’ve heard before.”
Note he said “some companies.” There are obvious exceptions, particularly Nolan North, famous for voicing Uncharted’s Nathan Drake. Willingham brought up the fact that in Saints Row IV, when you choose which voice your character will have, the only option that isn’t anonymous like “Female #1″ or “Male #3″ is “Nolan North.” If you choose North, your character will make some fourth-wall-breaking references to the actor’s real existence. North is one of the few voice actors who have enough exposure for that to work, and that’s why the exceptions are, well, exceptions.