While you may not have heard of her before, Georgia Van Cuylenburg’s bubbly voice is something you’ll be hearing a lot of, come this March. The young Aussie comedian-cum-writer-cum-producer provides the English voice of Oerba Dia Vanille — character and narrator in Final Fantasy XIII — and we caught up with her to talk about how she landed the role.
As always, the conversation will be posted in installments over the coming weeks. To commenters, we’d like to issue a quick reminder to be polite as this column is regularly read by participants.
Creative director, I Am Spartacus Entertainment – Georgia Van Cuylenburg
Siliconera – Jenni Lada
Siliconera – Ishaan Sahdev
Siliconera – Spencer Yip
Georgia: Well, there was never really an option for me; I never wanted to do anything else! When I was 12 years old, I decided I was going to move to LA in 10 years and be an actress etc. and I arrived 10 years and a month to that day.
I have always loved entertaining and creating, and all things that are the industry I am in whether it was theatre, film, TV, voiceovers, directing, producing, acting, stand up, singing…everything. I started working professionally when I was 16. As I got a little older and was more heavily involved in it all, I realized the power that we have in the industry to really affect people and to make a change in people. So as well as doing the work I started focusing on being a positive role model for kids — no smoking, drinking drugs and believing in yourself. Slowly, that grew into my main focus so everything I do is really about that in the end.
When I arrived in LA, I knew one person and now I have created a home a family and a life here — I just love it!! It is so amazing to be in a place where everything I want to do can be done.
Ishaan: Los Angeles is sort of seen as the mecca of the entertainment and technology industries. What was it like when you first got there? You said you only knew one person there; how’d you get your foot in the door?
Georgia: You are right; LA is an amazing town and it can be quite daunting. For me it was an exciting challenge. I knew I was in it for the long haul, so I just started from the bottom and got ready to work my way on up. It took a lot of meeting people — the right people and sometimes people who you thought were right but soon learned were very wrong! You really have to put yourself out there, try lots of things, learn lessons the hard way.
I feel that if you have talent, are a good person and put the right foot forward into enough doors, one will eventually let you in. I think that is something that is wonderful about being an Aussie here — there is something about the aussie spirit which is really attractive to people. Maybe our easy-going-ness (great word) or the fact that we are pretty honest and upfront. People trust us faster — it is really nice!!
The journey is by no means an easy one but it really is a numbers game — if you hang in there, stick it out and keep smiling, eventually, people start to notice. And I am very glad they did! It helps if you love living here, too. For me LA was the greatest place in the world to be unemployed; for others it isn’t, and that can make the time hard — but I love it here.
Ishaan: What was your first gig? Was it something that you saw yourself doing before you actually moved to LA or did it just…come out of the blue?
Georgia: My first gig was a touring educational theatre company. We went to schools all over the place and I played little PET, the recycling bottle — she was one cool character. My first voice-over gig was voicing Angelina Ballerina. I was totally obsessed with her when I was little so that was such a special experience!!
All the gigs I had before moving were really helpful for my move and lots of fun. So, although I knew I was moving over soon, I still loved every second of work in Oz.
Jenni: I remember reading the Angelina Ballerina books when I was a kid. So Georgia, how did you get cast as Oerba Dia Vanille? And how would you describe the recording experience for that character? Did you receive any special guidance from Square Enix or get to record with any of the other Final Fantasy XIII voice actors like Vincent Martella (Hope) or Ali Hillis (Lightning)?
Georgia: I auditioned for her. My agent handed me the script and said if there was anyone else that could play this girl better he would eat his hat. (he is more a beanie guy but…) This was the character description: Aussie accent, young, bubbly, sunshine and rainbows, etc… I so wanted to be her! But I didn’t know what it was actually for. And two weeks later, I got the call from my agent to say I had booked it but I didn’t know really how big it was.
He said I would probably have five or six recording sessions. Cut to 6 months later, I was still recording. I loved every second of recording — she is such a fun character to and some of her lines are so hilariously typical of something I would say that it was funny to all of us. I had really great guidance from the director and the Square Enix rep, but they also just let me do my thing a lot, too. The team were so great and we spent most of our time laughing if we weren’t recording.
I didn’t actually get to meet any of the others until we had finished. You always recorded on your own. It was so weird when some of us met at the end because you felt like you already knew them really well. I still haven’t met Hope or Sazh — which is even funnier as they are the two I am with the most in the game. But I became instant friends with Ali (Lightning) and Rebecca (Fang) afterwards, and Troy (Snow) and I are now really close, too.
Spencer: Can you tell us some of the funny lines from the game? Did you get a chance to see the Japanese version first to get a feel for the other voice actress?
Georgia: Yes, most of the time we had the Japanese as a reference. I know that the directors were trying to steer away from the stereotypical anime for most of the English characters, but they specifically stayed true to it for Vanille. But by the time we were near the end I didn’t listen to ‘shocked reaction’, ‘happy reaction’, ‘scared reaction’ — we already knew what they were after. I was very glad to have that version to work off, though, because the style is very different to anything I would do naturally, so it was a big help.
The most enjoyable lines were always the reactions — her sound effects were so fun and stylized. I now have a number of friends who get me to just make those sounds for them at random occasions. Watching them trying to imitate them is almost just as fun!
But I did write one line down that struck me as so perfectly Vanille. It isn’t really funny but so great: "You said it made you happy when I smiles didn’t you? But really I was afraid, I was always afraid."
My favourite line from the whole recording session was actually a stage direction: "Fang and Vanille enjoy their reunion while the others discuss their plans to overthrow the government" — love it!!
Spencer: How would you describe Vanille as a character? And when you were doing your own thing, what did you add?
Georgia: Vanille to me is a sad girl caught up in her belief that everything must be good and righteous and fair. She so very much wants the world to be all sunshine and love and flowers and happiness, but deep down inside, she knows it isn’t. The truth of her past roots her in a very deep sadness that she does not trust to share with anyone. For this reason, she can understand others more than they would ever know but she cannot share with anyone. The scene when she and Fang return home with everyone else is a huge telling scene for me.
Adding my own touch really came when the directors allowed me to stray away from the anime delivery. I have a lot in common with Vanille as I am all sunshine and smiles to most people but have been through a lot of sadness and I refuse to allow it to bring me down. So when I was allowed to play, I just used what I knew.
Ishaan: You’ve performed both in person and behind an animated character. What do you think one needs to keep in mind while doing voice-over work for animated media to put on a convincing performance? Especially in the case of anime and Japanese videogames, one tends to come across a lot of…unconvincing performances. How do you overcome that?
Georgia: I think the most important thing when recording voiceovers is to really perform as if you are in front of the camera. It’s not about just having the right voice. If you really consider yourself to be the character, there is so much more depth to the performance then. In sessions I will find myself standing like her, gesturing the way she does…even if I was sitting I would find myself swinging my legs just like Vanille would.
To avoid unconvincing performances in any medium, not just anime, you really have to take the time to think behind the lines, not to just say them how you think they should sound. You should understand your character and why they are saying what they are saying…but that’s just my opinion.