The Walking Dead Interviews
Actor : Nicki Rapp
Character : Lilly
Nicki Rapp is no stranger to our Irish shores having traveled extensively around the country and can even trace her ancestry back to county Cork which might explain her fondness for Father Ted!
Her role as Lilly in The Walking Dead is just the latest in a long list of TellTale titles she has appeared in stretching back as far as Monkey Island. She has also been worked with video game legend Tim Schafer on the amazing Psychonauts.
Lily has proven a divisive character in the game, stubborn and closed off at times but also quite vulnerable. Nicki’s portrayal of Lilly has been one of The Walking Dead’s most impressive displays so far. Lily along with her father Larry bring a lot of conflict and tension to the game but Lily is also responsible for some of the more tender moments depending on how you play it.
Lily is a damaged character she has had a pretty hard life, raised by an over bearing father who also wastes no time in coming down hard on Lee. Lilly reluctantly takes a leading role in the group which shifts the dynamic and creates its own conflicts. After losing her father in a rather gruesome attack by Kenny, Lilly is racked with guilt and overcome with paranoia which all boil over in Episode 3 leaving the door open for some interesting developments further down the line.
We were delighted to get to chat to Nicki about her thoughts on Lily, her career in the voice over industry but also her holidays in Ireland.
A very broad open question to get us started but can you give us a little introduction to your background?
I grew up in Santa Rosa – in the wine country of Northern California. Lovely place to grow up- vineyards, Redwood trees and the ocean very nearby. I’ve always loved nature and having access to soak it in; I feel very lucky to have grown up in the midst of a lot of beauty. I lost my Dad in 2005, but my mom, sister and her husband still live in Santa Rosa, so I visit often. Now I live in Oakland, right across the bay from San Francisco. I love film and music- true art from hard work – and the inspiration it can bring. Travel is the greatest gift I give myself, and I plan to do a lot more as soon as I can.
How did you start in the world of voice acting?
When I was in school at The American Academy of Dramatic Arts, I was never limited as far as the parts I played – yet a few teachers told me I wouldn’t work much with my voice. That was a bit disconcerting- you start to doubt all you’ve done, what you felt you’d done well. In the meantime, my Dad had heard a woman talking about voice acting on a local radio show, and he encouraged me to give it a go. When I moved back home, I began taking classes with that very woman my Dad had heard on the radio – Samantha Paris – at the school she created called Voicetrax, San Francisco. My first class was like lightning out of my fingertips! I felt like I found where I belonged, and I still feel that way… it just keeps getting better.
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?)
Ohhh jeeze… I am ashamed to say that I don’t play the games. I love to watch the walkthroughs and hear what others think – those are the best! I once had a crazy summer- if I recall correctly it was in 1993- where I was completely addicted to Super Mario Land on gameboy. Tetris was a little unhealthy as well… I recognized that perhaps I had a problem… so I stepped back. hehe
I am definitely in awe of the whole process- all I do is go in and talk and then POOF! There is so much more …It’s incredible- the artistry and brilliance. I’ve been in some incredible games with entertaining stories- from Psychonauts to The Walking Dead, with stories so varied yet incredibly creative and involving.
I can get copies of some of the games, and I usually give them to friends. I have some friends who really love “The Sims”, so it’s cool to share with them.
I have always had the perception that being a voice actor is harder than the more traditional onscreen roles as you have to reply solely on your voice to carry the whole role and that you can’t depend on normal human interactions such as body language or facial expressions.
Is that a fair comment or do both professions have their own positives and difficulties?
It is a challenge sometimes to not have a partner to record with, but I’ve gotten more used to it now. It’s a scary prospect when you start off, especially if you’re used to being onstage. Even though the actors don’t record together, I am constantly amazed at how we really sound connected in the scene.
Something that is very true for me is how comfortable I feel in the booth. Although having a costume is always magic for becoming a character, I have found that my imagination can take over in a whole new way because I am so relaxed about being where I am in the scene. I don’t think about my hair, or what the heck was my arm just doing, or what my next blocking is on stage. My mind has a new freedom and I create my own world for whoever and wherever I am.
Do you think Voice actors get the recognition they deserve? It is often quite hard for the fans to put a face to the voice and although they could be huge fans they might walk past you on the street without recognizing you. (Although that might be a good thing too)
Well, you got in touch with me, and that’s so cool! I am still a pretty shy person, and I have never wanted the sort of fame where I can’t live my life freely. I love to travel alone and be anonymous, it’s a wonderful feeling. I want to be an actor because I love to play, and there’s no feeling quite like it- especially when you feel like you’ve done your best and it gets under people’s skin. I’m always excited when I meet someone who pays attention to voice actors though… I still meet people who find out what I do and think it’s cool, but then ask me if I do any “real acting”. That’s a bit frustrating, but I just think to myself how cool it is that I get to play around and be anything from a Ghost Pirate Hunter to a cute little squirrel. It truly is the best job of my dreams that I never knew I wanted.
What other projects have you worked on that our readers might be familiar with?
I’m so proud of the games I’ve been a part of- they are endeared to many- players are really passionate about them. Working with Tim Schafer on Psychonauts were some really great times in my life, and I was so happy the sessions went on for years. I had no idea how amazing he is!! When I was cast in The Sims I didn’t really know much about it, but I knew it was going to be a new challenge… and now- 10 years later, I still love when I get to have a tantrum over something silly like an 8 year old would. One of my first big breaks was working on a web cartoon with Mondo Mini Shows called “Piki and Poko: Adventures in Starland”. I worked almost every week, and as I walked through the building to the studio, I learned of all the work that goes into these productions. I felt so connected to the whole project, and that was a great beginning for me.
Looking at the other games you have been in it’s clear a long and lasting relationship has developed with Telltale. How did you first start with them and do you still have to audition or do they now write characters with you in mind?
I love that you say that… I think Telltale and I have a sweet thing going. A lot of rad people make that place happen! I first became involved with Telltale when I auditioned for “Morgan LeFlay” from “Tales of Monkey Island”. I was unsure of my audition and based on the character description, I thought I had no chance…. I focused more on the ‘fan girl’ aspect and it turned out to be ok! I had no idea how hot she was though, so when I saw her I felt pretty cool to have her voice, and to be such a badass! After Morgan, that little brat Sammun-Mak made his presence known- and let’s not forget “Sam Jr”. I can finally say I’ve played a cockroach!
When The Walking Dead came along, I just didn’t know if I’d be a part of it… but once again it was a matter of me taking a risk at a character I didn’t know if I could really be. When I got the call that I was cast as “Lilly”… I was, and still am, completely over the moon.
When you first sat down to start preparing for the role as Lilly how much did you know about the character and how much evolves throughout the process?
The Telltale team is always good with letting us know what is going on with our characters. Whenever I go in for Lilly they pretty much always tell me it’s going to be a heavy day. Lilly isn’t particularly happy or perky in any way. I love that! They always tell us the background and of course let us know what is going on in the scene, and how gnarly it’s going to be. As far as my own preparation, I knew Lilly was pretty damaged. As you know, her Father was not the greatest inspiration in her life… I imagine her as a teenager, with Larry on her case, never letting her do anything- holding her to the highest standards. If she got a bad grade or made a teenage blunder, I know he wasn’t cool with her – ever. There’s a lot of anger and hatred- pent up emotions. She holds it in at a very elevated level.
Of course she loved her Father…. but he made her life hell. Lilly is not allowed to be vulnerable, her emotions are just packed in deeper and deeper…. episode 3 pretty much shows her at her breaking point.
Did you turn to the comics or to the TV show to get a feel for the tone of the Walking Dead?
I have read the comics, and the TV show is pretty dang scary… as we record scenes I can picture it… and when I watch the show I feel like I get it more. Zombies are no joke!
Zombie movies are my favorite because I really think it could happen… they scare me more than anything. Well, not more than “Saw” … but really close.
Plus I have a big crush on Simon Pegg- Shawn of the Dead is one of my favorites. And I love Spaced. (ok no zombies, but what a great series!)
Lily really is a divisive character depending on how player approach her in game, some get a tender funny Lily other a quite understandably paranoid Lily. What is your impression of her?
Lilly is someone who is so trapped in her past, and with a Father like Larry, she really can’t afford to let her guard down. He automatic expression is set at pissed off, and her tone only accentuates that. I don’t know if too many have experienced the tender side of Lilly- she is so on guard all the time, and truth be told, she is a tough broad and can take care of business. She just doesn’t handle things the best way, and honestly- with all that has happened to her personally, I can understand her…. crankiness.
Have you been able to have any input into her character, or was she pretty well formed by the writers?
The writers at Telltale are beyond brilliant. Honestly – my third game with them and I always feel well supported and excited by the words I get to say. I got really excited for the “explicit” stuff, because when you play a lot of furry animals and cutesy characters, getting to angrily proclaim proper bad words is really cool. To see it all come together is pretty much blowing my mind!
So to the actual recording process what is a typical day working with Telltale?
Whenever I have a session for The Walking Dead, they were usually about 4 hours. I like to power through, especially with Lilly because there is so much intensity in her. Jory’s studio is really awesome and I feel very comfortable there- which is important when you have such heavy scenes to play. Whenever I’ve spent time in Lilly’s head, it takes me awhile to get back to Nicki. It’s exhausting and incredibly rewarding work.
Do you record with any of the other cast members or is it all done solo?
I always record alone… We have Jory and the guys from Bay Area Sound- Jared and Julian. I’ve worked with them for years on other projects as well. To record with the rest of the cast would be a dream come true, alas. Just not the way for us.
Is recording solo something you just get over or does it still feel strange to be in a one way dialogue?
I suppose I’m just used to it… the directors and writers from Telltale are really good at setting the context for us. The only game I record with a buddy is for “The Sims”… but other than that, we’re all in there alone.
Do you get to hang out with the other voice actors? We can see that many of you have worked on the same projects.
I love hanging out with my voice actin’ pals. I live next door to a pub so usually once a month we meet up and talk about everything. It’s great to talk about “the business”, but I love that we have other things in common as well… we laugh a lot and as expected- we are really loud!
What’s next for Nicki Rapp? Have you any other exciting projects coming up?
Honestly, I do not know what is next! I have been lucky to book gigs that have work repeatedly, so I know I’ll be recording more Sims and some other projects as well. The future is looking bleak for Lilly, but we’ll see what happens!
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?
Where to begin! I traveled over to Dublin in 2008, and went again in 2009. The beauty and the spirit astounds and inspires me, I felt very at home there. The music! The scenery… there is no place like it. I had such an instant connection, but didn’t know I had ancestry- I recently found out that my third great-grandmother, Mary Connell was born in 1810 in County Cork. I was in Cork in 2009 and didn’t even know! I am so excited by this, because I knew I had it in me!!
I have been longing to return- some of best friends in my life are there, and I miss them dearly. I have incredible memories… I went to Doolin to hear some Trad, Saint James’s Gate for a Guinness like none I’d ever had… toured the somber and eye opening Kilmainham Gaol. I walked the Burren and traveled to Glendalough in awe. Also went to Avoca and had a pint in the pub where they filmed Ballykissangel! Poor Assumpta. I’ll never get over that.
Also, Father Ted is my favorite series EVER. Genius.
So much more of the country to travel. I will definitely go back- hopefully sooner than later.
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