Hey everyone! Maleok here after a brief hiatus with an interview with the extraordinarily talented voice of Yasuo, Liam O'Brien! Liam is credited with over 300 voice acting credits on IMDB and is widely known for his work on such characters as: Gaara (Naruto), Yasuo (League of Legends), Illidan Stormrage (World of Warcraft), Jushiro Ukitake (Bleach), and 50 different voices in Fallout New Vegas. If you are an avid gamer you have probably heard this guy's voice somewhere, and most likely multiple times. I caught up with him about his work as a voice actor, and his work with Riot.
First of all can you tell us who you are and some of your major roles?
Liam O'Brien: Well hi, I am Liam O'Brien. I am an actor, director, and occasional writer based in Los Angeles. I work in a lot of games, animation, and occasionally in commercials. I think I am known best for a handful of characters; Illidan from World of Warcraft, lately Yasuo from League of Legends, Gaara from the Naruto series, recently Gollum from LoTR Shadow of Mordor, War from Darksiders, Grimoire Weiss from Nier and a few others. I have done voice direction in things like; The Last of Us, Resident Evil 5 & 6, Shadow of Mordor and a few things I can't talk about yet. I also chase around 2 kids, play D&D live every week, and barely have time to use the toilet.
How did you first get into doing voice work?
Liam O'Brien: Getting into voicework wasn't something I set out to do in the beginning. I wanted to be a really serious stage actor when I was growing up. I did it in high school and afterwords went to NYU for their acting program. After I graduated, I plunked around in theater professionally in New York City and in regional theaters around the country. While I say I didn't chase voice over growing up, I certainly did watch a healthy amount of japanese animation. I was slowly becoming a gamer from about the end of highschool. Somewhere along the line I ended up doing shakespeare in Ohio with another guy who had been doing it for a couple of years at that point, his name is Crispin Freeman. He hooked me up with an anime dub back in the day, so I booked a role which led to another, then another. Eventually I thought, "I guess I should go to L.A to try on camera work and maybe something will happen with voiceover.", and one of those things came true. I haven't looked back since, though I still pine to get back to the theater since the last work I did there was 8 years ago. I have however been happily busy with all the nerd-work I do, so I have no complaints.
Do you favor video game or animation work more and why?
Liam O'Brien: I don't think I favor one over the other. Only because there are so many different kinds of experiences within both voiceover types that no two jobs are ever quite the same. There are a lot of similarities but things can vary a lot: Sometimes you are on your own for either, sometimes you are grouped, sometimes both can be gritty and real, or it can be rapid or silly. Both are often very different experiences. My favorite thing about my career is just the sheer variety of the things I get to do. Between acting, directing, and the different types of jobs. I am never really doing the same thing from week to week. That is great most of the time but it is occasionally nerve racking but mostly awesome.
You mentioned that no two jobs are the same. What is the average work day like for you?
Liam O'Brien: My average day starts with me dropping a kid off somewhere, usually school, then maybe dropping in at my agent's place for maybe 20 minutes of auditioning. Then I might go to a quick job, like an hour somewhere. Then I'll run off to a completely different location in LA, that could be 5 minutes away or 45 minutes away depending, then work for 4 hours straight. Either screaming my balls off or sitting in a group read quietly and every once in awhile standing up for my 3 or 4 lines then sitting back down.
Do you feel like you need to alter your voice for many roles?
Liam O'Brien: I am gonna go back to Shakespeare here, "Suit the action to the word, the word to the action," (Hamlet Act 3, Scene 2), You know if you read sides, your gut will tell you what kind of project it is. If it's something that is very cinematic and they are asking for a natural read, I will rarely go far from what you are hearing now. If I have a mic right in front of me, I can make myself sound a little younger or older, and a little bit lighter or deeper. I can then switch up accents but it's not far from my home base. However if I'm doing something like Gollum or an orc or a robot I have a little more room to stretch and goof around. But it always comes back to, "What am I doing today?".
A lot of people joke about how you played so many people in Fallout: New Vegas. Can you tell me about what that was like?
Liam O'Brien: I don't pretend to understand why the decision is made to have one person do so many roles. I am assuming it has to do with being able to use that voice over anywhere if need be. Or there could be math involved that is above my paygrade. That game was one of the craziest session runs i've ever had. I think it was 6 or 7 sessions with just wall to wall talking all the way through. Then when I played the game, because I love Fallout, I thought it was funny because you never really know how many lines you have in these things and I felt like I had at least 32% of them. But maybe what happens is when the nukes go off I personally, Liam O'brien, since I do live in Southern California, survive the blasts and I go on like a Genghis Khan to people the world.
Do you find it difficult keeping up with all of your roles, and are you ever caught off guard when asked about a lesser known role?
Liam O'Brien: That happens a lot nowadays. It didn't in the beginning but now I have been doing it for so long that both time and distance mixed with my brain slowly going sour I will forget. People are still discovering roles I did 12 years ago, so there are roles that pop up that I won't remember. Of course if they play something for me I'll go, "Oh ya of course that's me", and maybe I will even remember doing it, but as far as remembering the names of all my roles I just can't. I remember my favorites and the ones that tickle my funny bone but certainly not every single one. I feel bad when that happens because the projects are great and the people who are fans are often very passionate. So when people have to run up to the actor like, "Hey do you remember voicing _______?" then I have to tell them no, I really don't I'm sorry. It's kind of a bummer but I don't know what else to do.
Would you consider yourself a gamer?
Liam O'Brien: Yes I would. I worry that I am running out of time to do it. I think there will come a time when my kids don't want to have as much to do with me. They will go off to school and want to hang out with there friends and I will have more free time around the house. If I were only acting, I would have a lot more gaps during my days but as of now I fill every last gap in my schedule, like tetris, with either directing or acting. If my days are booked up and my nights are about putting the kids down and hopefully having an hour and a half with my wife before we fall asleep, it's very difficult. However that doesn't mean never. I certainly do make time, and I have reached the point where I have to say, "Ya that's the game that I am gonna sink every spare minute I have into", Fallout 4 is looking like one of those games. In other words I am a gamer at heart.
How did you come into contact initially?
Liam O'Brien: Well it was like it is with almost all jobs that I get. Riot had a role or roles that they needed filled so they reached out to a casting director or studio. The studio or director acts as a go between and will contact 5-10-20-30 however many people they need. So I just got the call. I remember going in for it and liking it after the read, and I think I actually got a callback for the role to tweak it and work it out. I love westerns and I certainly love things like Seven Samurai, so I really gravitated towards him.
Yasuo's full voiceover as voiced by Liam.
I know that some of your friends like Travis Willingham and Laura Bailey were in League of Legends before you. Did you know the scale of the game going into the audition.
Liam O'Brien: I did at that point. I know it's been around for quite a while. I had no idea quite how bananas it was, but I think about a year before that job I had an idea of just how bananas it was. It's funny to be apart of these things that have such massive followings. The idea that my voice is popping outta computers is kinda funky still. I never really quite get over that.
What was the recording session like with Riot specifically in comparison to others?
Liam O'Brien: It was mostly average, since it was just me. I do remember sort of massaging it for awhile and getting just the right balance for what they wanted. We recorded one session then I came back several weeks, or maybe even a couple months, later and we retouched some of the stuff we had done before and moved forward from there. I would say 90% of the time when you lay down an audition, whoever is casting it tells you to do what you did before. However Riot liked the quality of the audition I did and they wanted to push and pull from there. I personally like that, I don't like showing up every time and treating it like a Play-doh fun factory and spitting out voice loops. I like directors who know what they want and don't settle for something after take one. I like when they are trying to craft something special.
So you liked Yasuo as a character?
Liam O'Brien: Yes I did. I have always liked the idea of the weary wanderer.
Would you say Yasuo is one of the characters you are recognized for nowadays?
Liam O'Brien: It's getting there. I think I still hear Illidan and Gaara the most though. However Yasuo is becoming one of the top 5 that people either write me about or ask about at conventions.
Overall what would you say about working with Riot Games?
Liam O'Brien: I liked working with Riot because they really were specific and knew what they wanted. I think that with the kind of game that they have, they are trying to carve out as unique a persona as they can with each character. Since the game is match based and has players going head-to-head there isn't a ton of story. What they are really banking on for the voice over is personality and character. Whereas if you get called in for a game like Call of Duty, they will call in 20 guys and say, "Okay we need you to say grenade, get down, and cover me", and we're good. This is more fantasy driven, and they want everyone ot be extremely unique and memorable. Like I mentioned I like specificity and that is not as common as you might think.
Finally, do you think voice acting is something you will do for the rest of your life?
Liam O'Brien: I absolutely 100% think that voice acting is something I will be doing for the rest of my life. Who knows I could be surprised and get booted out of the circle at some point but I have reached the point where I no longer worry about that. I have met and worked with some of my favorite people on the planet in this business. It's really full of wonderful people. Like in the A-team, I have a unique sub-set of skills that comes handy in this universe so I hope and expect to be here for a long time. I certainly wont be leaving by choice.
Thank you so much Liam for giving us insight into the world of Voiceover! We certainly love the work you do, and hope to hear your work for many years to come! Please do take the time follow Liam's Twitter and Facebook.