We had the great pleasure of chatting with a voice actor veteran, Nick Murdoch, straight from South Africa. Nick has been in the industry for ages and worked on some great local and international projects (even one he’s not allowed to talk about yet!). If you’re a voice actor or just someone interested in this field then please scroll down and have a read for some great advice and insight into Nick journey.
Table of Contents
- First off, tell us your name, what you do and where you’re from?
- Do you have any training as a Voice Actor?
- What do you like most about this job?
- What was your biggest voice over job?
- How do you blow off some steam when you hit a creative block?
- What are your career goals?
- What is your greatest weakness?
- What are you doing to improve it?
- What is your greatest strength?
- How does it help you as a voice over artist?
- What’s the secret to a successful career as a Voice Actor?
- What made you choose a career as a Voice Actor?
- Tell us about a really difficult voice job you had and how you overcame it?
First off, tell us your name, what you do and where you’re from?
My name is Nick Hudson Murdoch, I’m a Voice Actor, Actor and Voice Director from Johannesburg, South Africa.
Do you have any training as a Voice Actor?
Yes! I’ve been fortunate enough to learn at the feet of many masters throughout my career. I studied acting in college and started bringing those skills into my stand up and voiceover work. It made a huge difference in my voice matching and impression jobs, but I just couldn’t seem to get any announcer or lead voice gigs. I was convinced it was because my ‘natural’ voice just wasn’t strong enough and left it at that.
A while later I was in Australia and, by some strange alignment of the stars, found myself in the tutelage of Nick Tate who had built an incredible career for himself doing movie promos in the US for films such as ‘Jurassic Park’ and ‘Schindler’s List’. I remember being completely blown away by his ability to switch effortlessly from his everyday voice, which was very kind and lyrical, to that deep, booming, commanding roar that at the time was one of the most recognizable voices on the planet! It immediately unlocked something in my brain and after a few sessions of what felt like militaristic vocal training, I developed the technique that established me as a lead voice and solidified my career.
When I became more focused on animation, I started taking acting classes in Los Angeles with Charlie Adler, a true titan of the industry who voiced such characters as Buster Bunny in “Tiny Toons”, Cow, Chicken, and The Red Guy on Cartoon Network’s “Cow and Chicken” and hundreds of other iconic characters. That was the best thing to happen to my career and gave me a whole new toolbox of skills which I now apply to every aspect of my work.
I’ve also been fortunate enough to take classes in acting for video games from Kris Zimmerman, the legendary voice director behind more brilliant shows and games than I could ever list and I’m currently doing voiceover improv classes with the brilliant Kiff Vandenheuvel.
What do you like most about this job?
Oh wow… where do I start?? I love getting to play for a living! There’s barely a day that goes by that I’m not playing a different character who’s a different age, sex or race to the one I played a day, an hour or even a second earlier and if I do my job right, nobody knows that it’s me! It’s incredibly fun and liberating and something that I wouldn’t be able to do in any other medium. I’ve also got to say the people that I get to work with. There’s a wonderful camaraderie amongst the actors, engineers, directors and really everyone that you get to spend hours with while being a lunatic! Every time you walk into a recording it’s like walking into a party and all of your buddies are there waiting for you to take a swing at the piñata! I don’t know of any other work that offers that kind of fun and job satisfaction!
What was your biggest voice over job?
It’s the one I’m working on right now and I’m not allowed to talk about it! All I can say is that it’s an animated show in the US and I play five characters in an all-star cast! I get giddy every time I think about it!
As far as animation goes, I’m working on an animated series called the “Sole Protectors” with DJ Khaled and 2 Chainz on Complex. I narrate the show as well as play Lil’ Fred (Khaled and Chainz’ robot lion butler) and Bruce (A quietly crazy auto mechanic). That’s starting to take on a life of its own so I hope it finds its way to the mainstream!
The other job high on my list is getting to play Rex Tillerson on “Breaking News” – an animated, satirical news show by D.C. Douglas. That’s a really great project to be involved with – the cast is extraordinary and it’s a really great take on the madness that is today’s political world!
As for commercial jobs, I’ve had the pleasure of being involved with some really great brands from banks to luxury cars and most of the ads were big when they ran, so its tough to single one out as the biggest. The ones I’m fondest of and that stand out for me most are the jobs where I get to play with a character instead of purely announcing. I recently got to play Pennywise, the clown from IT, on a Bidvest Bank ad and it was heaven on earth for me, largely because I’m a huge fan of Tim Curry and it was an opportunity to step into his clown shoes for a moment, but also because working on a project with folks creatively brave enough to think up a concept like that is like getting a free ticket to Disneyland! Those are the sorts of jobs that resonate the most with me, even if they’re not the most widely seen.
How do you blow off some steam when you hit a creative block?
Most of the time it’s whatever gets me outside and into nature and silence for a while. Usually that means playing golf, hiking or fishing, but if I’ve only got a few minutes I’ll go for a jog through a park or take a walk around the block. Other days I need music so I’ll either mess around on the piano for a few bars or, if I really need to clear the cobwebs, listen to Dire Straits at full volume!
What are your career goals?
I’d like to get more involved in creating the projects I work on. I’ve had a couple of ideas for animated shows swimming around my brain for years now, so it’d be great to finally get them out of my skull and into the market!
What is your greatest weakness?
I’ve got a tendency to over-analyze scripts and characters when I’m working alone and it’s really not the best tendency to have when most auditions these days are recorded from home! Put me in the booth with a director or an engineer and I’m fine – the party’s on, we’re bouncing ideas and I’ll know what I’ve got to deliver very quickly, but put me in a quiet room with just a script and a microphone and I’ll climb inside my own head almost immediately. It’s like the podcast version of “A Beautiful Mind” in there with everyone talking all at once and it makes it very difficult to decide and commit to a single idea for a character. The result is either a character that’s wooden and flat or one that’s completely, over-the-top batshit crazy and it takes me a long time to then tune the dial to what’s right for the project. I usually only know I’ve done it after I’ve hit “send” on the email and am busy doing something else when the ideas start to flow and I’ll suddenly think of the perfect tic or expression that would have defined that character, but by then all I can do is hope that the audition was strong enough and that I get to bring that revelation to the studio with me!
What are you doing to improve it?
The improv training has really helped me out a lot with that. Whenever I feel like I’m blocking myself, I’ll put the character in a few completely different scenarios and see how they react. I usually learn enough from that to either break the wall and be able to play the character or to scrap it altogether and start fresh. It’s also unlocking more of those “Eureka” character revelations before I send so that usually leads to even more choices and more scenarios. Whatever the outcome, I feel like it helps me deliver stronger performances faster, so I’m gaining a lot more confidence in my solo work.
What is your greatest strength?
I’m malleable, have a good ear for accents and dialects and have always been a pretty good mimic.
How does it help you as a voice over artist?
Aside from ADR work and voice matching, I find it really useful in animation and game work for building characters and giving them the little tweaks and tics that make them mine. A lot of my characters are mashups of folks I’ve seen on TV or in movies with personalities from the radio and people in my life, so every time I meet someone new or see someone interesting in a show I’ll subconsciously add them to my mental Rolodex of references and channel them when I need to!
What’s the secret to a successful career as a Voice Actor?
It’s all about the acting! I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve heard “Everybody tells me I’ve got a great voice and should get into voiceover” or “I can do a really good impression of Donald Duck (Followed closely by wet, strangled, scream noises)”. That’s a great party trick, but it really isn’t enough to build a career on! Focus on enhancing your acting ability and being able to build a character, even if that character is an announcer, and work a scene. If you can get that right, your prospects are endless!
Also, and this is going to sound a little weird, don’t always give ‘em what you think they want! When we get a script for an audition it’s usually got the character bible attached, which is a document that explains who your character is, what their relationship is like with other characters in the story, their childhood history and much, much more information that should have nothing to do with the five or six lines you’re about to monologue. The temptation is to study that bible and use it to craft your character before you’ve even glanced at the script – Don’t!! Casting Directors have to go through literally hundreds of auditions for each character, and chances are that if you’re one of those hundreds that are all trying to sound like you hated your 3rd grade Mathematics teacher while you tell the waiter that there’s a fly in your soup, you’re not going to land the gig. Develop your character from the script first, tweak it from the description if you feel it’s necessary and then deliver the strongest performance that you can, you’d be amazed how much it’ll make you stand out.
What made you choose a career as a Voice Actor?
Ever since I was a kid I wanted to be an actor or a performer and did everything I could wherever I could to do that. When I was in school, I was in every play they’d let me do, I started working as a stand-up comedian when I was in college and acted in every student film that I could. After that, I toured with a theatre group as a musician, acted in commercials, recorded impressions for radio shows and took on any role in every discipline that became available. All the while I was doing voice work, but it was the realization that it was the one medium that incorporated everything else I was doing that got me to focus more on it and make it a larger part of my acting career.
Tell us about a really difficult voice job you had and how you overcame it?
Ok, this one’s more stupidity than difficulty, but I was playing a couple of characters on a project that called for a lot of high-intensity screaming as the characters were being flung across rooms, falling off of buildings and generally getting the stuffing beaten out of them. I was just starting out in voiceover, so I didn’t yet know any of the tricks like how to control or compress my voice and by the end of the day my vocal chords were literally bleeding. I sounded like Tom Waits after a heavy night out and was booked to record a radio spot the following afternoon! I spent the next day spraying my throat with every saline, lidocaine and steroid mix I could get my hands on and I walked into the recording ready for the client to fire me on the spot. I’ll never know how this worked out like it did, but the creative team loved the extra gravel in the VO and we got that job done in two takes. It was pure luck that I got out of those two sessions with my vocal chords and career in tact, but it was great inspiration to start vocal training and learning how to do that sort of work properly without hurting myself!