The Walking Dead Interviews : Mara Junot aka Christa
The Walking Dead Interviews
Actor Mara Junot
Episodes 3-4 +
Mara Junot has just made her appearance in episode 3 of Telltales “The Walking Dead” as Christa and doubling up the roles in Episode 4 playing Anna Correa another important character and a excellent performance by Mara. Growing up in Southern Louisiana she was an avid gamer often seen pounding the buttons in the local arcades but it was 15 years ago when Mara got her first taste of VO work and has never looked back. After leaving her radio job in 2008 she set about the mammoth task of breaking into the industry and after a lot of hard work things are starting to pay off.
Christa and Omid are two new characters that the group have only just encountered, just as we begun to get a feel for the new characters at the end of episode 3 a massive horde of angry zombies appeared and everyone had to quickly escape leaving a lot of questions unanswered.
For this reason and more it has been great to get this opportunity to chat to Mara and get a great insight into how she has arrived at this point in her career but also to get her impressions on Christa.
A very broad open question to get us started but can you give us a little introduction to your background?
I was born in Northern California (Bay Area) and raised in Southern Louisiana; so I quickly found a connection with Christa when I discovered she was from San Francisco & making her way with her boyfriend (Omid) through the south. Ironically, for my first live recording session with TellTale, they flew me into Oakland, where I hadn’t been since the year I was born. As Oprah would say, it felt like a sort of “full-circle moment”.
How did you start in the world of voice acting?
My first paid voice-over gig was just over 15 years ago, when a friend & business owner was looking for a voice for his company phone system. I recorded greetings on CD and he loved it. Within a year or so, other local businesses were asking for my voice for similar projects. By 2003, I started doing small market commercial narration projects for a local cable company and by the end of the year—as so many voice talents eventually do—I landed a radio disc jockey gig. (Admittedly in the voice acting world, having a past in radio can be considered a career “kiss of death,” but honestly the experience truly gave me some of the biggest tools to be a better voice talent today—like learning how to let my personality come through in a read and getting comfortable with editing & producing my own audio.)
When I left radio (the first time) in 2008, for months I mourned the loss of getting to use my voice & personality and what was (at the time) the best career I’d ever had. Living in south Louisiana without a talent agent or any access to professional recording studios within less than an hour away made the prospect of continuing to use my voice as a career seem pretty bleak. So I figured that unless I moved, my only hope was to try working as my own agent; and I began constantly scouring the internet to uncover where there might be (if any) good opportunities online.
I’ve been known to be a wee bit obsessive-compulsive, particularly when it comes to any work my name is behind. So once I had the clear vision that voice acting was my dream job (and just maybe actually within reach), I naturally morphed into a “workaholic”—because honestly, it was so much fun it rarely ever felt like “work”! Twelve to sixteen hour days pretty much became standard. I dedicated as many of my waking hours as possible to completely immersing myself in the voice acting world: latching onto every book, blog, workshop or podcast I could find about the biz, creating & revamping demo materials, branding and marketing myself to any & every online platform I could get my paws on. And after about a year or so, it actually started paying off…like gangbusters!! Opportunities started slowly snowballing in and household-name companies from around the globe began calling…direct!
Now I think one of my biggest challenges has been learning how to maintain a life balance while keeping up with the new demand, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world! It feels like I’ve finally found my home.
Do you play video games? If so which genre is your favorite? If not do you play or at least watch someone play the games you have starred in to see how they turned out?
(Do you get a free copy of the game?)
I’m almost embarrassed to label myself as a true “gamer” these days because I don’t have the time to put in nearly as many hours as I used to (which is probably a good thing!), buuuuut…ever since the glory days of Ms. Pac-Man—yeah, I’m totally showing my age—I’ve always loved to play.
Throughout middle & high school, I was almost always the only chick you’d ever see glued in the arcade after school or on weekends. RPGs tend to be my favorite genre—although I try not to indulge in them too often to avoid wreaking too much havoc on my waistline! Once logged in, I can lose days! Hehe…
I do get a huge kick out of playing the games or apps I’ve starred in, but boy am I pretty rusty! (Let’s put it this way: I’m still trudging my way through Episode One of The Walking Dead!) I’ve only recently discovered game “walkthroughs”. Sure saves a lot of time!
I haven’t gotten a free copy of the game, but the free trips to sunny Cali kinda make up for that!
Do you think voice acting is more difficult than onscreen acting as you have to carry the whole role with just your voice and can’t use body language or facial expressions to help convey emotions?
Honestly most of my acting career thus far has been off-camera, so I’m probably not the best judge to make any comparisons. At the same time, I can attest that voice acting can be much more challenging than many on-camera actors realize, because you do have to rely so heavily on delivering an emotional impact with only your voice as your instrument. I think it heightens the senses for the listeners, and that makes it even more necessary for actors to really connect with the words we’re speaking.
If you had to choose between a voice actor or on screen/stage actor what would win out?
At this stage in my life, I’d have to say voice acting, hands-down. There’s always the possibility I might change my mind tomorrow I suppose, but I’m really in love with the flexibility that the anonymity of voice acting can allow. If you can find ways to master bringing the essence of a character to life, in voice acting you don’t have to overcome the limitations of issues like race, age, or any other physical aspects that might otherwise hinder your chances of playing it. Being multi-ethnic myself, it’s so freeing to have the opportunities to play roles of varying ethnicities, ages, etc. without the pressure to possibly be typecast in the way an on-camera or on-stage actor might. And frankly, with mobile phone video cams in everyone’s pockets, these days everyone is potential “paparazzi”—so having the luxury as an actor to be able to perform during the day while maintaining at least some private personal space after hours is a huge plus!
What other projects have you worked on that our readers might be familiar with?
You may have heard me in some commercial projects or a video game or two, like Virtual Air Guitar Company’s “Kung-Fu Live” or “Kung-Fu High Impact”, but my voice is also frequently used in automated phone systems for several brands across the country, so the readers have quite likely heard me before when they’ve called to get information…or when they were trying to get ahold of a human being in customer service to bitch ‘em out. Remember, don’t shoot the messenger, y’all!
How did you find working with telltale? Are they as awesome as we all believe?
I owe infinite thanks for this incredible opportunity to Dave Fennoy, the amazing talent behind the voice of Lee Everett. He personally recommended me through Facebook to Sean Vanaman & the amazing team at Telltale, who are all quite possibly even more awesome than you’d already imagined.
How exciting is it to land a role in a game and then see that game do so incredibly well?
It’s impossible to put into words how much an opportunity to be part of a project like this means to me—to work with such incredibly talented people who have the gift of developing this creative masterpiece that really resonates with the player on such an emotionally intense & intimate level…being a part of that in any way is such an indescribable honor.
How do you approach a role like the one of Christa in the Walking Dead?
Telltale is really great about developing characters with strong personalities & backgrounds. I think Christa & I have a lot in common, not only in our age, appearance & background, but also in the way we both try to put up a tougher exterior to survive and protect ourselves & those we love. The Walking Dead is all about making those incredibly tough choices surrounding what’s really important in our lives. It’s hard to imagine how anyone would hold up mentally & emotionally in such an unthinkably desperate time. During an intense scene where I’m living through Christa’s eyes, reacting in that moment, the Telltale team is there collaborating with me to help tap into the heart of what she’s really made of under the pressure of the circumstances.
Did you turn to the comics or to the TV show to get a feel for the tone of the Walking Dead?
Both! Before the game came along, I hadn’t dusted off a comic or “graphic novel” since before I started doing voice-over, so I wanted to make sure to do Christa’s character justice.
While I was never “into” zombies before the series, I’ve always been enthralled with psychology and what drives the human experience. Robert Kirkman does such a brilliant job of using zombies as a metaphor for what defines humanity and the potential ramifications of its loss that I was immediately hooked from the first issue & TV episode. I’m now a huge fan!
Your character has only just appeared in Episode 3 but we get the impression she is going to be around for a while. Can you tell us a little bit about Christa?
Christa is a woman with a big heart who has started to become hardened after one too many bad experiences with other large survivor camps after the zombie outbreak began. Even though she’s actually very sensitive and caring, at first she can appear somewhat intimidating on the surface because she’s so very protective of preserving both her own & her sweetly optimistic boyfriend Omid’s safety. She has a hard time letting her guard down with strangers, but she’s got a fiercely loyal heart and clings to her faith in humanity—and she won’t hesitate to speak her mind or call anyone out if it will get the job done & protect those she feels need it most. I think Christa would rather have others see her as the bad or “tough” guy than to have Omid have to play the role and risk losing the very tenderness & optimism that she loves about him so much in the first place.
What is the recording process like? And does it vary much from company to company?
Most of my day-to-day voice recordings are done from my digital home studio in Greater New Orleans, and usually I work in solitude. Sometimes clients call into the studio to either record remotely or simply provide direction over the phone during the recording session, but it’s rare to work in person, which is why getting to work with Telltale live in California is even more of a treat for me.
Do you record your own lines separately or do you ever get to record in a session?
All of my lines are recorded without the other actors, either directed via Skype or phone from my home studio or live with some of the Telltale developers & audio producers, so it’s fascinating to witness how the character conversations all come together so seamlessly when the game production is completed.
Do you get to hang out with the other voice actors?
For most projects thus far I’m usually flying solo; but you can’t talk to yourself in a dark box every day without starting to go a little crazy, so I do try to make as many voice acting networking events as my schedule can spare. It’s kinda the only “water cooler” we have in this biz!
What’s next for Mara Junot? Have you any other exciting projects coming up?
There always seems to be something new & exciting around the corner from week to week, so just about anything’s possible. Stay tuned!
To finish up as we are Ireland’s biggest Independent Video Game publication we do like to ask everyone if you have any connection to Ireland? Ever been here on holidays? Or planning any trips soon?
Ireland has always been at the top of my list of places to see once I ever manage to seize the opportunity to travel out of the country. Its beautiful picturesque green hillsides are always some of the most breathtaking landscapes I’ve ever seen (in pictures that is). I’ve still got a few leftover credits for some flights that need rescheduling, so ya never know…I just may wind up in your gorgeous green neck of the woods soon!
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Social Media links:
Website – www.MaraJunot.com
Twitter – www.twitter.com/marajunot