Award Winning Voice Actor Tara Strong: “Why you should get paid to do what you love and never…

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Award Winning Voice Actor Tara Strong: “Why you should get paid to do what you love and never retire”

…You know, I worked with the great Stan Lee before he passed. He came in to do a voice in the Spiderman animated series. He was in his nineties and so healthy and he looked incredible and was so funny and on the ball. I said to him, “Stan, you’re amazing! What’s your secret?” He shot back, “Get paid to do what you love and never retire.” I love that. It’s vital to do what you love and stick with it. I’m grateful every day.

I also always knew without having to be told that the people who were painting my nails were just as important as the director. I think it’s hugely important to treat everybody you encounter with respect and kindness, regardless of the supposed “hierarchy” of their roles in any given situation.

II had the pleasure to interview Annie Award-winning and Emmy-nominated voice actor Tara Strong. Tara began her acclaimed acting career at the age of 13 in Toronto, Canada, where she landed several TV, film, and musical theater roles, as well as her first lead in an animated series as the title role of “Hello Kitty.” After a short run at Toronto’s Second City theater company, Tara moved to Los Angeles with an extensive resume that included her own sitcom and well over 20 animated series. Upon arriving in Hollywood, she quickly made her mark on-camera in several TV and film projects, such as “Party of Five,” “National Lampoon’s Senior Trip,” and “Sabrina the Teenage Witch.” But her voice career continued to thrive and now Tara is known by millions as the “voice of their childhood.” Some of Tara’s more iconic roles include Bubbles in “The Powerpuff Girls,” Timmy Turner in “The Fairly OddParents,” Dil Pickles in “Rugrats,” Raven in “Teen Titans,” Ben in “Ben 10,” Toot Braunstein in “Drawn Together,” Melody in “The Little Mermaid 2,” Boh the Baby in the Oscar-winning classic “Spirited Away,” and both Batgirl and Harley Quinn in the DC Comics Universe. She has also provided voice-over work for a host of video games including Mortal Kombat X, Final Fantasy X and Batman: Arkham. Tara’s work on-camera has continued as well, with roles such as Miss Collins on Nickelodeon’s “Big Time Rush.” Tara regularly uses her substantial social media platform to raise money for kids with cancer and animal rescue groups, as well as utilizing her commanding voices for her anti-bullying campaign. She lives in Los Angeles with her two sons.

Yitzi: Thank you so much for joining us Tara! Can you tell us the backstory that brought you to your career path in acting and voice acting?

Tara: Sure! I grew up in Toronto. I knew when I was five years old that I wanted to be a singer, a dancer, an actress. It’s just something I was born with. My parents were not in showbiz. The closest thing that I had to a performer in my life was a grandfather who was a cantor at a synagogue.

As a little girl, I Ioved watching movies of the week, and of course, Saturday morning cartoons. I told my parents repeatedly that acting is what I wanted to do one day, and throughout my childhood, I bugged them to get me an agent. I’m fortunate to know what I’ve always wanted to do. I think it can be challenging if you’re not laser-focused on what you want to choose as a career path. I like to say that my path “chose me” and I felt pretty lucky about that.

When I was thirteen, my parents finally got me a meeting with the Toronto talent agency Butler Ruston Bell and they ended up signing me. They still represent me all these years later, and now they represent my sons too, which I think is very cool. I booked my first professional play in my first year with them. Before that, I had only done local Yiddish theater. I spoke Hebrew, but not Yiddish and so I learned my lines phonetically. My first professional play was “The Music Man” at an old, beautiful dinner theater in Toronto called Limelight Center Theater. My first on-camera show was a show called “T and T” starring Mr. T and my first animated lead role was Hello Kitty.

Toronto was an incredible place to grow up and there were so many opportunities in the entertainment industry. Before moving to California, I had already done a lead in a sitcom, and had a bunch of voice over jobs under my belt, like “Beetlejuice,” “Care Bears,” and “The Garbage Pail Kids.” So when I finally moved to Los Angeles at nineteen, I already had a pretty decent resume.

So whenever people ask me, ”How do you get into voiceover?” I always ask if they’ve done any acting. Because that has to come first. Acting lessons teach you how to break down characters, understand important aspects of the business, and gain confidence. I studied at Second City Toronto and feel like improv is imperative to character development. When you’re in a voice-over studio, you have to be ready to jump in and try out different characters, often providing voices for additional characters on the fly. Animation producers tend to hire performers who are versatile, because they can pay an actor one scale rate for up to three different roles.

I also warn voice-over hopefuls about despicable scammers trying to profit off of their passion by conning them into paying for auditions with false promises of roles. Agents simply get a percentage of what you make after you book work, then negotiate for you after you’ve been offered a role. No legitimate agent will ever require payment for an audition, and it’s also illegal. There’s not a single person in my world that got there because of pay-to-play. Acting is an extraordinary but challenging world. It doesn’t matter how badly you want it, how talented or interesting looking you are, so much of it is timing and a healthy dose of luck.

Yitzi: You have a very accomplished career. Can you look back and think of the most interesting story that happened to you in the course of your career?

Tara: Oh gosh, I’ve had so many interesting experiences. Here’s one: when I was a kid, I was a big fan of “The Little Mermaid.” I even had the poster on my bedroom wall. And then Jamie Thomason, one of what I like to call my “angel directors,” ended up hiring me to play Ariel’s daughter Melody in the sequel a few years after I moved to Los Angeles. I couldn’t believe I got to be a part of “The Little Mermaid” legacy. I literally cried singing in the studio with Jodi Benson, the original voice of Ariel, who is the loveliest human.

Also, playing Batgirl alongside Mark Hamill and Kevin Conroy was an incredible, life changing experience. I would go into those sessions and pinch myself every day. Mark Hamill is one of those unicorns, an A-list celebrity equally as gifted in animation voice-over as he is in his on camera work. It’s so much fun to watch him work, to witness him “become” the Joker. We also had extraordinary guest casts. Andrea Romano ran that show as though it were a big on-camera dramatic series. We would have table reads with the whole cast prior to the recording sessions, which doesn’t often happen. There was so much thought given to every moment of that show.

More recently, I got to play Rocky the Flying Squirrel in “The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle.” It was a great honor to be the first actor to voice Rocky since the passing of the legendary June Foray. You’ve got to watch it if you haven’t. It’s one of the most underwatched, amazing shows ever on Amazon, in my opinion, season 2 in particular. The animation is brilliant and beautiful.

I didn’t know when I started out in my career that I was going to do primarily voice work but I’ve had many wonderful adventures and I wouldn’t change it for anything. It’s been such a gift because it doesn’t matter what you look like — it’s all about what you bring to the table with your gifts. I have the privilege of working every single day. Even right now, during COVID, I’m blessed that I’ve been able to work the entire time. It’s the only leg of the entertainment business that didn’t miss a beat. I have a home studio and we work via Zoom and Source Connect. But I’m fully aware that even among voice-over performers, I’m one of the lucky ones.

Yitzi: Wow, amazing. Can you think back and think of a story of a funny mistake that you made and then the lesson you took out of it?

Tara: Let me think about that, because I want to answer that consciously. It’s definitely a good question. It’s important. It’s certainly not that I haven’t made any mistakes! I just tend to focus on being grateful for all the positive things that have happened to me, which is also important.

I guess one example would be an on-camera job that I was offered that I didn’t take because I was very busy in animation. In retrospect, it would have been a lot of fun to do that part. It was in Vancouver, so there were plenty of studios that I could have recorded remotely from. I think at the time, I was scared to kind of rock the boat. So, I guess my advice would be to not make decisions out of fear and trust your instincts, gut, and heart. If it’s something that you really want to do, then you have to go for it and trust that the universe has things lined up for you. And with that said, I think every mistake you make is also part of your journey as long as you grow and learn from those mistakes.

It’s also important in my view to use whatever influence one may have in a positive way as much as one can. I try really hard to not let people down, which can be tricky, especially on Twitter. I try to be there for everybody and listen to everybody with respect, but it’s been challenging dealing with things you thought would have been long gone in the U.S., such as children being ripped away from their parents and virulent racism. Some things just call for a more vocal or emotional reaction and sometimes those sorts of opinions get me in trouble. But maybe it’s good trouble. All I know is, I can’t be persuaded to muzzle myself, or not speak my truth, out of fear. Sometimes those sorts of opinions get me in trouble, but I can’t be persuaded to change a decision because of fear. Even just speaking out about being a vegan can drum up controversy! But I’m a big believer in saving this planet, and I think if we all stopped eating meat, we’d be in a much better position, so that’s something else I’m going to continue talking about even if it’s not always comfortable to do so.

Yitzi: Excellent. So are you working on any exciting projects now that you want to share with us?

Tara: Well, I’m working on a new series for Dreamworks, which is one of the cutest things I’ve ever seen in my life. It hasn’t been announced yet, so I don’t want to get in trouble. But it’s just pure and adorable and I’m super proud of it. I wish I could say more about it.

I also play a foul-mouthed, swashbuckling pirate named Coral in the new series “Crossing Swords” that Seth Green is executive producing, and which was just released on Hulu. It’s super funny and I love its setting. I always want to be a part of anything Seth does.

We are still doing Teen Titans, and we’re still doing the DC Superhero Girls, both of which I love. And I have a new on-camera thing that’s happening which I am also not allowed to talk about, but I’m super duper excited about it. What I can talk about, though, is “Witness Infection,” a really funny indie feature film I did with the hilarious Carlos Alazraqui, who also co-wrote it.

Yitzi: Okay, that’s amazing. We often write about the importance of self-care. Do you have any recommendations from your own experience that you could recommend to your colleagues or to the world in general, on how to avoid burnout and how to thrive in your career?

Tara: You know, I worked with the great Stan Lee before he passed. He came in to do a voice in the Spiderman animated series. He was in his nineties and so healthy and he looked incredible and was so funny and on the ball. I said to him, “Stan, you’re amazing! What’s your secret?” He shot back, “Get paid to do what you love and never retire.” I love that. It’s vital to do what you love and stick with it. I’m grateful every day.

I also always knew without having to be told that the people who were painting my nails were just as important as the director. I think it’s hugely important to treat everybody you encounter with respect and kindness, regardless of the supposed “hierarchy” of their roles in any given situation.

It’s also important, I believe, to try to have an open mind when we have a difference of opinion with someone, whether a friend, or a family member, or a stranger, because the only way to bridge that gap is with honest dialogue, and that includes listening to one another even as we stay true to our authentic selves. We have to do all that because life’s gonna throw challenges at us, and I believe we’re here to learn. So If we learn these lessons, and we can navigate thorny emotional situations while holding onto our authenticity and treating people with kindness, then I think we’ll all be okay.

Yitzi: What are your “five things that I wish someone told me when I first started?’

Tara: I’d say to listen to your gut, and stay authentic. Don’t ever do things that make you uncomfortable — no matter what.

Always believe in yourself, because no one can make you think negatively of yourself unless you let them.

Stay aware of what’s going on around you, honor the people around you, listen to what’s going on around you, hold on to yourself in the face of cruelty, and don’t let it get to you. I think those are very important.

Even if you’re feeling nervous or you don’t have confidence at that moment, if you can fake it, if you can believe in yourself enough to get through that moment and know you’re there for a reason, I think you’ll succeed.

Yitzi: That’s great. No one is able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person that you’re grateful towards who helped you achieve the success you have now? Are you able to share a story with us about that?

Tara: I would be completely foolish to say there weren’t a million angels along the way helping me. That starts with my parents, they were always there for me. For them to have no experience whatsoever in the entertainment business and still believe in me, that was amazing. They were at every audition, every rehearsal, and every show I did. So, I have to start by thanking them and my sister too, who is still in Toronto and watches everything I do.

My very first animated job was given to me by a woman named Marsha Goodman. Before playing Hello Kitty, I initially booked the role of Melody, Hello Kitty’s friend. I was super excited because I grew up in a toy store; my parents were actually the first to import Hello Kitty merchandise into Toronto! But then on the very first day, Marsha switched us. She made the call that I should be Kitty instead and I was thrilled. I felt bad for the other actress, but I also knew that it was important for my career to play the title role. So I’ve always been very grateful to Marsha. She saw something in me that set the ball rolling.

I eventually moved to Los Angeles, and my first two years were challenging. I would cry in my apartment and think I was never going to make it here. I was so broke after two years that I was actually considering going back to Toronto. But then I got a call from — you guessed it — Marsha Goodman, who said, “We’re doing a new Inspector Gadget series called ‘Gadget Boy and Heather,’ will you be my Heather?”

She saved me twice. I certainly owe her a lot.

Andrea Romano is another incredible woman for whom I’m incredibly grateful. When I auditioned to play Raven in “Teen Titans,” I was playing, like, five different tragic teenage females at the time. I was doing Batgirl, Kylie in “Extreme Ghostbusters,” Sharina Wickett in “Detention,” and Ingrid Third in “Fillmore!” I was doing all these dark teens and I was very conscientious about making each voice sound distinct, because each of those characters has her own identity, world, friendships, relationships, emotions. So for my Raven audition, I was a little at a loss, and I basically just did my own voice. As I walked out of the booth, I knew something was missing.

On my way out, I said to Andrea, “Do you mind if I try one more thing?” And she allowed me to go back in. It was this last-minute idea to add this weird little demonic roll to my voice. And I ended up getting the gig. It was like this strange “meant to be” moment. Raven has become an iconic character and so important to so many people. Every time I go to a Comicon, I meet kids dressed as her who say, “You got me through my parents’ divorce.” Or “I was suicidal until I met Raven, she got me through my depression.” I meet the most fantastic people at cons who pour their hearts out to me and I’m very grateful to meet them. I have to thank Andrea for giving me the opportunity to breathe life into this character.

There are also many other people along the way who have helped me get where I am. If I tried to name them all, this interview would never end.

Yitzi: So, Tara, as you know, you’re a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? Because you never know what your idea could trigger.

Tara: I’m really just disheartened by bullying, and hatred against people because of their skin color, or where they are from, or who they worship, or who they love. I think it’s so important for people to let go of things that have been ingrained in them. We should all see ourselves as beings of love. People need to know that they shouldn’t hurt others simply because they live authentically and unapologetically — if they’re trans, if they’re gay, if they’re Black, if they’re Islamic. There shouldn’t be judgment against anyone. I just don’t understand the hatred. That would be my movement — the elimination of hate. I know that’s a really broad, sort of cliché thing to say, but that’s how I feel!

I’m also moved to tears every time I see evidence of animal cruelty.. Animals also have friends, ] families, they experience fear. Including the fear that they’re dying. If you force yourself to watch these videos — and they are admittedly hard to watch — you’ll see what goes down in slaughterhouses, and you would never eat meat.

It’s hard to get behind just one cause because there are many things to fix. So I’ll choose a day and say, today we’re giving to Mercy For Animals, today we’re giving to RAICES (which is an organization that helps get the kids out of Trump’s baby jails), or we’re going to help even one kid with cancer. If every single one of my followers on Twitter were to donate a single dollar, that would be half a million bucks for one of the charities that I feel passionate about. But if using my platform to amplify these causes does even a fraction of that, or even just raises awareness, then I intend to keep using my socials for good, even in the face of hatred. And, you know, I also hope to inspire others to do the same thing.

Yitzi: Wow, that’s beautiful. Here’s our final question. We’re very blessed that prominent leaders and figures read this column. Is there a person in the world that you would like to have a private lunch with and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them.

Tara: Yeah, it’s either Michelle Obama or Oprah. Oprah created an entire empire from nothing. She’s always using her resources and influence to help others and is inspiring people all over the world, including world leaders! She really shows that even when you don’t come from a place of inherited privilege, you can achieve great things. And Michelle… well, she’s the most extraordinary. I selfishly wish she would run for president.

I mean, there are so many inspiring people I would kill to have a private lunch with. So many inspiring women who have paved the way for all of us.

Yitzi: Beautiful Tara, thank you so much for your time. It has really been an extremely inspiring and uplifting interview. I wish you only continued success.

Tara: Thank you so much. I appreciate that.

Award Winning Voice Actor Tara Strong: “Why you should get paid to do what you love and never… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.