Roy Samuelson is a top Hollywood voice over artist who has been heard on television, film and radio by billions. Entertainment Scoop caught up with the busy talent for an exclusive Q&A on his career and what it takes to be one of Hollywood’s busiest voices.
ES: You have and continue to have a very successful career as a top voice over artist. When did you realize that this is what you wanted to do and do you remember your first professional voice over job?
RS: When I was in school, my teacher gave me an assignment to interview a professional of my choice. I chose a radio announcer. When I went to the radio studio, I was wowed by all the technology, the quiet of the booth, and how quick and professional the space was and the people were! I vividly remember being shown that the angle of the microphone can take out the “P” pops. That was a jaw drop for me – Wow! Little things make such a difference!
My first paid job behind the mic was for a Disney World attraction called The Great Movie Ride. I played a gangster that hijacked a tram, and took the 60 or so guests through movie scenes, only to get blown up 8 minutes later. It was the same show over and over again, and like the Karate Kid movie “wax on, wax off,” I practiced different ways of using the mic, using different character choices, and little adjustments — that sometimes worked, and sometimes didn’t work.
ES: Many people do not know how the auditioning process works for voice over work. Is it similar to acting auditions? How do you audition for voice over work?
RS: There are some similarities to acting auditions. Some actor friends of mine do at-home auditions. Remote auditions are pretty common for voice over too. These vo auditions sometimes come in at any time and are usually due quickly. I’ve had auditions come in at 3am, and even on a Saturday afternoon, and they are due ASAP.
I’ve been hired off of my voice over demo reel a few times, and there are some repeat clients who know my voice who just book me when they need me.
ES: When you are doing voice over work do you go into a studio all the time or can you do the work in a home studio? How does that work?
RS: The majority of my voice over auditions are done in my home studio or with my portable mic rig. A friend of mine was out of town and happened to be in a restaurant when a callback audition came to her, due ASAP. She asked the restaurant to turn off the music in the restroom so she could record (and yes, she booked it!).
There are occasions where, like on camera acting auditions, I go into a voice over casting studio and record a few takes. The engineer or casting director offers feedback, or I give another take that might be different than the first. In most cases, remote studio or at a casting studio, my auditions are an audio file that gets uploaded. When an audition comes in, I get an email from my agent with the copy of the text I need to speak, along with a description of what they are looking for the read to sound like. I can give a few takes depending on the length of the script and the type of audition it is.
ES: You have worked extensively for some of the biggest brands on the market today. What are some of the commercials in which we have heard your voice? Do you have a favorite brand that you work for?
RS: I’ve been heard on so many like Intel, Quaker State, McDonalds, and a Stand Up To Cancer campaign for Comcast. I really like a Ford Focus spot I did – the car’s technology was really neat, and the read shows that with a sense of wonder and coolness that fit the visuals.
ES: One of the areas in which you work often is in television series promos. Everyone has heard your voice at one time or another working on such promos but many people do not stop to think about whose voice is telling us to tune into our favorite series next week. Can you tell us a little bit about that sort of job and what show you work with?
RS: Promos are like a commercial for tv shows; the voice tells a story in a minute or half a minute and shows you what you can expect to get out of the tv show, and ideally gets you excited about it. The great promo voices support the story of the promo itself. My focus in promo has led to numerous spots for KCRW, Los Angeles’ NPR station, and Dateline NBC. I’ve booked campaigns before and been replaced at the last minute, so it’s an ongoing excitement for me to see where this heads.
ES: You are one of the voice over artists who are leading the charge in the area of descriptive narration. Most people have no idea what this is but it is so important to blind people and people with impaired eyesight. Can you explain how descriptive narration works?
RS: Descriptive narration is a unique form of narration. It describes the visuals of a TV show or movie for the blind of visually impaired. You can think of it like an audiobook.
It is usually a special audio track that goes along with a TV show or movie. If you go to the movies, you can get a special wireless headset to listen. Streaming services have a special audio channel that you turn on, similar to turning on closed captioning or dubbed voices. You can listen to a whole movie, with all the original audio elements.
One of the important parts of descriptive narration is to stay in the story, but not be in the story. It’s definitely indicating what’s happening, but to do it within the genre, but not distract the viewer from the story or the characters.
Descriptive narration for me is all cold reading. They give me a 20-25 page script for an hour episodic TV show, or a 100+ page script for a feature. For features, I also read credits.
I’m excited to see the growth of shows and movies that have descriptive narration – the FCC recently required more content for networks and added a few cable stations. I’m working to encourage studios and networks to expand this service, particularly to make it easy to access this for people driving who want to catch up on shows during their commute. It’s obviously unsafe to play a video in the car – so there’s a safety aspect to it too. Plus the more demand for audio description, the more titles become available for the core blind / visually impaired audience. It seems like a special app, like podcasting for movies or films, is just a few down loads away, and I’m excited to see how that aspect of this work grows. It’s a win win-win for all.
ES: What are some of the huge films that you have done the descriptive narration for?
RS: Some current movies are Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom and Skyscraper. I enjoyed Spiderman: Homecoming. Get Out. Baby Driver, Atomic Blonde, and Spectre. For the last few years, I also provide descriptive audio narration for the network series on FOX’s Lethal Weapon, and CBS’ NCIS and Criminal Minds.
ES: You have achieved a level of success in Hollywood that only a handful of voiceover talent have reached. What advice would you give to up and coming talent who want to pursue this area of the entertainment field?
RS: There are a lot of elements that have combined at the right time and the right place for me, so in many ways I am lucky! But there are so many things that talents themselves have control over, so when the right opportunities come, they are ready. What areas can a talent control? I think it can boil down to a few things, particularly having grit, having a growth mindset, and having a mentor.
How many times does someone get back up and go to it, even when they don’t necessarily feel like it? Do they honor their commitment, or is there something else that might be more important to their focus? It’s important to follow that focus, even if it’s outside of their comfort zones. I’ve played with different ways of exploring this.
A growth mindset helps build skills. If someone thinks that they were born with innate talent, then they may think they are perfect the way they are, and there’s no need to practice or work out or grow the skills. And with that kind of fixed mindset, anything can be seen as a threat instead of a challenge to figure out how to overcome. A growth mindset sees “failure” as something to learn from. I’m really fascinated by these two perspectives. Carol Dweck has a book called Mindsetthat goes into a lot of these details.
A mentor saves you from learning a lot of lessons that other people have already learned and can share. They can confirm or debunk assumptions. They are inspiring, and can challenge someone to do more than they ever thought possible, simply from their sharing of experiences, asking good questions, or exploring the perspectives they share. I’m lucky to have a few great teams that contribute to many aspects of my career and my life; and I love exploring how much I have yet to learn.
Follow Roy Samuelson on Instagram & Twitter @roysamuelson