Interviews: Brian Sommer – Voice Actor

BRIAN SOMMER

BIO: Brian has often said, “It all started at Disneyland.” While visiting that magical park, Brian was introduced to Adventure Thru Inner Space (a long since extinct attraction). The narration soundtrack of that ride was performed by the immensely talented voice actor Paul Frees. The dramatic intensity of that performance impressed Brian. He was hooked. Brian began a lifelong journey to learn more about the craft of voice acting. While other kids were planted in front of the TV, Brian was listening to rebroadcasts of old radio dramas on a local station. With a great deal of respect and admiration, Brian was influenced by the incredible voice actors of the Golden Age of Radio. Talents like Paul Frees, Daws Butler, June Forey, Thurl Ravenscroft, Paul Winchell, Elenor Audley and Mel Blanc remain to be Brian’s inspirations.

Brian made the decision to follow his bliss and attended the prestigious voice acting academy “Voicetrax” in San Francisco. There he learned the skills to become a professional voice actor. He was signed by the STARS agency in San Francisco and has been doing what he loves for a living ever since. Fulfilling the ‘circle of life’ Brian is now an instructor at Voicetrax and enjoys mentoring and molding the newest generation of voice actors.

With an impressive vocal range, Brian had brought vocal life to all manner of characters. From sinister to silly, Brian can be heard in over 100 video game titles, voicing nearly 250 characters He enjoys all roles that come his way, but has always been partial to the villains. “The bad guys always have the best lines, and you can get away with so much playing the characters with no morals”, Brian says.

Brian is honored to have contributed his talents to some great projects. His titles include “Diablo III”, “The Walking Dead”, “League of Legends”, “Sam and Max”, “Tales of Monkey Island” and scores more.

Brian has never had any aspirations to act on camera or stage. “I am a voice guy” says Brian. “The acting craft has many different disciplines. Voice over has always been my focus. It has special challenges all it’s own. After all, what does a raised eyebrow SOUND like.”

So many people have a Disney connection. Some are more up front in the eyes of the fans, like the Disney Legends, and others are known by only the über fan. Brian Sommer is somewhere in between. After this interview, I’m sure you’ll add him to your Disney personalities to follow! So let’s get to our first question…

Q1: What would be your Disney Dream job if you couldn’t be a voice-over announcer/narrator?
Brian – First of all Lee, thank you for considering me for an interview.  It’s always great to connect with other Disney fans and I am always happy to share my love for Disneyland and offer any information that may be of interest regarding voice over.  My ‘Dream Job’ would actually be a combination of Disney and my current job.  I would consider it an honor and a privilege if I was given the position of park announcer for Disneyland.  I have handled the live announcing duties for private events at the Disneyland Hotel, and the Walt Disney Family Museum.  I am also the announcer at Walt’s Carolwood Barn and have enjoyed all of those jobs. However, to be the official announcer for Disneyland would indeed be my dream job.  It would combine my two favorite things.  Disneyland, and voice work. To make it my ultimate dream job, I would want the imagineers to renovate the second floor of the Haunted Mansion into my studio and office.  That’s not asking too much, right?  Jack Wagner (the original announcer) is certainly one of my idols.  So many great announcers and voice actors came out of that era and their work for Disney has always been among my favorite performances.
Q2: What is your favorite piece of voice work that you have done to date?
Brian – That is always a tricky question.  I have voiced nearly 300 different characters over the years and they all had something interesting about them.  However there is a particular type of character that I enjoy voicing more than any other.  That would be, The Bad Guys!  The villains are always so fun.  The evil characters get to do things that normally would get you arrested. They always have the great lines.  Of course your character usually has to die in the end, but that is a small price to pay for great scenes.  I have made a good career out of voicing guys who tie the fair maiden to the train tracks and such (twist mustache).  Disney has always had a great line up of villains and their choices for actors who provide the voice have always been great ones.  I am always humbled and inspired by such talents as Paul Frees, Thurl Ravenscroft, Eleanor Audley, Hans Conried, and so many others.
Q3: What is the question you get asked the most that you have the hardest time answering?
Brian – I am often asked “How do you get into voice over?”  It is not always an easy question to answer.  The craft is a misunderstood one.  Too may folks think we read scripts in a voice other than our own.  The ACTING in voice acting is more important than that voice.  Unlike stage or film actors, we only have our voices to carry the emotion of the scene.  Those in front of an audience or camera have the option of props, or facial gestures.  I teach voice over and often challenge my students by asking, “What does a raised eyebrow SOUND like”.  So when folks ask how to get into the biz, I usually tell them to work on their acting primarily.  Taking acting classes, whether they be at an acting school, community college, or a community center, will ultimately serve you much better when getting ready to enter our profession.
Q4: How do you approach a voice gig? Is there a lot of preparation depending on the topic, subject?
Brian – When an audition for a character comes in, the producers will send along sample script lines and sometimes an image of the character and bio.  Its most important to figure out what type of character it is.  What makes him tick.  What is his role in the game/show?  Good guy? Bad guy?  The voice will follow once those things have been established.  When the script is written well, a lot of the character is explained in the words they speak.  However, if it is not that evident, then it is the job of the voice actor to interpret the motivation and emotion of each scene.   When a voice actor is auditioning for a role, its important for them to show the emotional range of the character.  This lets the producers know the actor can perform the characters voice in various scenes (happy, sad, angry, inquisitive, etc).  This all goes right back to the previous question regarding what it takes to get into the business.
Q5: How would the Disney Company be different if Walt was alive today?
Brian – There are many facets of the Disney company.  My greatest connection to it has always been Disneyland.  So my answer to this question will be based on that.  Since I was a kid, I always viewed the park as the pinnacle of show quality and guest services.  I remember telling people that the park was so clean you could eat off the street.  Of course this is a bit of an overstatement, but fans of the park will know what I mean.  Starting in the late ‘90s there was an unfortunate shift of priorities at the park. Emphasis was placed on merchandise and selling, because of this the upkeep and maintenance of the attractions suffered.  The park started showing the scars of daily usage and neglect.  If Walt had been alive during this time, that never would have happened.  Walt understood that a guest could go anywhere and get a hamburger or a stuffed animal, but there was only one place to experience a swashbuckling band of pirates, a haunted manor house along the river, or a thrilling ride down the icy slopes of a mountain. You could only enjoy those things at Disneyland.  The amazing attractions are what bring people to the parks.  They are the stars.  Luckily, with new management in place, the parks have come back strong.  They understand that the park is a long-term investment, not a quick buck. The money is being spent and the time is being allocated to give the attractions (and the park in general) the care and service they need to shine.  I remember walking into the park soon after the management shift had occurred.  There I saw a maintenance worker down in his hands and knees painting one of the hitching posts on Main St.  I thought to myself, “Walt is back!!!”
EPILOGUE: This is a man I’ve listened to on many Extinct Attractions DVD’s and thought deserved to be Disney’s main announcer! It was great to have the privilege of interviewing him for Disney Nouns. But who knew such a nice man secretly yearns to be a villain (insert maniacal laughter here)? Oh well, each to his own!
I’d like to thank Brian for taking the time out of his busy schedule to grant this interview!