By Rachel Woodward, April 24 2017 —
From April 27–30, the Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo will bring sci-fi, comics and nerd culture to the city. In total, over 50 artists, actors and special guests will attend the expo this year. Linda Larkin — who voiced Jasmine in the classic Disney animation Aladdin — will give a panel presentation on Saturday April 29 at 2:30 p.m. Larkin sat down with the Gauntlet to talk about why comic conventions are important and what it takes to be a voice actor.
The Gauntlet: Why do you think events like the Calgary Comic Expo are important?
Linda Larkin: I work alone in a recording booth — I rarely get to interact with people who are seeing and hearing my work, so when I go to these expos I actually get to meet people who’ve been impacted in some way by the work that I’ve done. It really makes the whole thing come full circle for me. It makes me feel like what I do isn’t just some silly little job, but some cool thing that actually can mean something to people.
It’s very unique working in voiceovers. It’s even more isolated than any other kind of work that I’ve done. I don’t even get to work with a big bunch of people, so it’s really fun to go and meet people and also to hear people’s stories of what they individually may have struggled with as kids and how this movie helped them break through some of those struggles, or this character helped them break through. People will tell me really powerful, personal stuff that stays with me forever and it makes me feel very fortunate to be a guest at these events. And it’s also fun to just meet people who enjoyed it and who loved it and are just happy to see you.
Gauntlet: It must be strange meeting people who say that you were a big part of their childhood.
Larkin: That’s the cool thing. A lot of the people who were little kids when this movie came out are now in their twenties and thirties and these are the people that are going to these expos, and they’re all like “you were a huge part of my childhood.” You don’t think about the time that passes and now when I meet someone that age and they’re like “your voice sounds familiar, do I know you?” And I’m like “yes, I think you probably do.”
Gauntlet: What advice would you give someone who wants to get into voice acting?
Larkin: For me, it happened in such an indirect way. It’s not like I set out to do that and then pursued a course of action to get there. For me, I was a dancer and then dancing sort of segued into acting for me. I was an actress, and I wasn’t targeting any specific form of acting. It just happened that [voice acting] was something that people responded to well to me and I was really good at and I just got the opportunity to do it. I think that if you’re a young person starting out today and you want to do voiceover work, it’s a different world. Now, people can go directly to YouTube and create their own content and display their talent, interest and creativity in so many ways and reach so many people. I guess the one thing that is the same today as when I started was you gotta just do it. Whatever it is you love, you have to get out there and do it. Then the opportunities will find you.
Gauntlet: What have your experiences been watching the Disney princess evolve since Aladdin originally came out in 1992?
Larkin: I was at one of these comic con events in Connecticut [last year], and somebody was doing a panel on the princesses from Snow White to Elsa and Anna. She went every year and talked about the evolution of the princesses as individuals, like what the pay scale was for women versus men at that time when the princess was introduced to the world. So as men and women in real life have become equal, these princesses have sort of become more equal with the men they’re in the stories with, which is really interesting. It was such a fascinating talk. I think they’ve become more complete people and they are individuals and complex and they’re modern and I feel like they’re always a reflection of the time they’re introduced in. That was true for me, and it’s true for the characters that are being introduced today. As we evolve as a society, they sort of evolve in their complexities as well.
Gauntlet: Did you receive any backlash or criticism as a white woman voicing such an iconic woman of colour?
Larkin: [Animation] is a very special world — animals talk and there are flying carpets and magical genies and all of this. It’s really a world where everything is possible. I never really thought about it in terms of the restrictions of the real world. It’s not the first time I’ve heard that, but it truly was not on my mind. For me, I’m the voice of that character, and there’s an artist who draws the character, and the artist who drew my character is a man. I think this is something we’re all creating together, and it just seems like it’s not my business, that part. What I’m there to do is just be true to this human being and provide this voice, and voices aren’t different from one race to another. Accents can be different, regionalisms can be different, but voices are voices. It’s like a heart — it doesn’t change if you’re one race or another. For me, it’s something that I don’t think about a lot, I don’t worry about it a lot, and I feel like we’re all a piece of creating this character, and I don’t know that I would get that job today.
I think that people are definitely more politically correct [now] and more conscious and they might really search for someone whose ethnicity is closer to Jasmine’s, but I feel so lucky that I was able to do it because I think I was the right person for the job. I’m glad that I wasn’t denied that opportunity because someone was worried about how it would be received. If it’s a live-action film, I understand the difference, I do. But I’m just providing the voice. I’m not portraying all the complexities and nuances of an ethnic character as a white woman in a live-action story, and I think there is definitely the distinction there. Of course I can play this character. I relate to her on every level.
Edited for brevity and clarity.