Peter G writes,
Charlet Chung is an actress trying to make it in the world. She started steadily climbing the ladder with her first role in the third season of Cold Case. But she also branched out into voice acting, and landed the role that has defined her career as mech pilot and rabid video gamer DVa in Blizzard’s Overwatch. With her appearance at C2E2, Miss Chung graciously agreed to answer a few questions for Bleeding Cool.
G: You’ve live action, you’ve done voice acting…how did you wind up doing video game voices and, specifically, how did you wind up working with Blizzard on Overwatch?
CHUNG: I was working mainly as a theatrical actress, which in our terms means television and film only, for around eight years. I’ve been in the business for twelve years now. But for the first eight years, it was all about television. I got my first break in Hollywood three months into my career because I was told by my manager at the time that, “If you want to prove you’re going to be an instant success in Hollywood, you have to book your first guest starring role”…a guest star level credit would mean that you are the main sort of component in one episode. And its not like where you see someone who’s, say, serving the coffee, but somebody who’s the main character of one episode. And she said, “You’re going to have to do that within three months.” And I took her seriously, but she was actually joking with me.
So what happened was I just worked my butt off. And really, that’s not to say that, just because you work hard at something, you’re always going to be successful at it (or, at least, I don’t find that to be true for myself). But I just worked really hard and I prayed really hard and on the last week of the third month, I booked my first guest star role on a show called Cold Case on CBS. And when she called me to tell me I got the role, I said, “Okay! So are you going to keep me on your roster now? Because I got it within three months!” And she said, “Oh, girl, I was just kidding about that! I was just applying some healthy pressure to you! Usually, my actors take a year or two to get their first guest starring role!” So it was kind of a funny start, but I just kept working. And thankfully, I was just able to work continuously as an actor for eight years going forward.
But I also had this thing in high school where people would be able to recognize my voice, even if I wasn’t speaking loudly from down the hall. So something in me thought, “Okay, as an actor, I’m doing film and television all the time. That’s the goal to be successful. But we also model and we also are in commercials and we do print,” and I thought, I really want to do voiceover. But the funny thing is, as easy as it was for me to get into the industry as an actress on television, I could not, for the life of me, get a shot in voiceover. It was the hardest thing to get into for me, personally – I don’t know what it’s like for everybody else. Even four or five years ago, it was such a closed circuit with such a closely knit community. The jobs are all going to sort of the same group of people. And I couldn’t even get representation.
I then got chosen out of 7,000 actors to be in a showcase called the ABC Diversity Showcase. It’s a showcase that ABC/Disney puts out of their network to be able to promote diversity within Hollywood. And I was the only Asian that was picked out of a cast of twelve. And because of that, it sort of put me out there on the map. I was able to get representation, which then led me to my agent of three years, who eventually got me to audition for video games. Like a year or two after getting represented, I booked Call Of Duty: Black Ops 3 as a main character as one of the specialists. And they trained me for, like, a year and a half to be able to hold my own on a video game as a lead. And then that led me to Overwatch. I don’t think the two are necessarily related – I don’t think Blizzard hired me because of my work on CoD, per se, but I do think that the confidence I was able to build off of that experience led to my confidence for my audition for Blizzard. And it is harder in a lot of ways — if I can sort of put in categories, it is a little bit harder to get into animation. But because Overwatch and my character, DVa, is sort of an animation character herself, it has led me to several opportunities where I’m on several series as a regular that are slated to be coming out at the end of 2018 and 2019.
It’s been a long journey, I’m still auditioning for television and film. But in the meanwhile, Overwatch and Heroes Of The Storm and Starcraft II and the Blizzard family and all their projects have really put me on the map, and have given me a platform to be able to connect to fans.
G: So you’ve had Call Of Duty, which is very serious stuff. You have Overwatch, which is superheroes. You have Agents Of MAYHEM, which is from Volition…the folks at Volition are just out of their minds. How do you find yourself doing the voices? Do you find yourself being coached in ways like, “I wasn’t expecting to go in this direction?” How are the different studios you’ve worked with different in how they get you to approach your lines?
CHUNG: One of the things people ask me often is, “Why do you think you got that role?” or “How did you get that role?” And I think that the roles that I’ve gotten have come directly from one reason (or maybe there are others), and it’s sort of going with the idea that you have that very specific trait, your idea of a character, as opposed to looking and trying to be somebody that the producers or the Powers That Be are looking for. Oftentimes, when I want a role on television or a video game or animation, if I really want it, sometimes I will get caught up in my head about what I think they want to hear or what I think they want to see in this character. And I’ve found that for Blizzard in general and Overwatch in particular was to go with what I thought was a Korean pop star who was sassy but smart and also young and vibrant.
Once you go into the studio with that sort of mindset, that you know the character better in some ways than the writers or producers do, there’s these subtle changes that it makes to voice delivery or, if you’re on camera, doing a take a certain way, and that’s really dependent on the director. That is sort of dependent on the director. And on Overwatch, Andrea Toyias, who is the director and the casting director…she wears many hats, actually…of the game. She is still, to this day, the best director in voiceover I have ever worked with. Most all the directors I’ve worked with in most all the series I have done are fantastic, but she is by far the best. She has a connection with the actors and the material in a way that other directors don’t. And her direction and subtleties sort of changes the performance she tries to get out of us. It’s completely based out of her own experience, expertise, and talent.
What’s nice is, most studios, whether it’s Call Of Duty or Agents Of MAYHEM or Overwatch, a lot of the studios really give you the power to create something. And that’s where we thrive as actors. I wouldn’t say there’s too much of a difference outside of talent and direction. And I would say Andrea Toyias is definitely a big proponent of all the good performances in Overwatch that you hear.
G: Do you play many video games yourself?
CHUNG: It’s kind of a funny story. I was an only child until I was eleven, and then my sister was born. And when you’re an only child until you’re eleven years old, you wind up playing a lot of video games because, well, lack of siblings. I grew up playing Duck Hunt and Lion King on Sega Genesis and Mario. And then, of course, school kicks in, and the teenage years kick in, and boys kick in. And I stopped playing video games until I was about sixteen, and my best friend, who was a boy, would drive me home after school, and before working on homework, we would eat lunch and that would lead to him saying, “Oh, I want to play a couple of rounds of Tekken, would you mind spotting with me?” And that meant I would be the one blocking and him practicing his combos. And at the time, I thought, “I’m being a good friend.” But looking back? He’s still a really good friend of mine, so it’s not to say he was a bad person, but it was a very sexist thing to do, because he wasn’t offering to actually play with me, he just wanted to practice on me. So it was a very interesting memory to have, because now, a few years back, I had gifted my husband with the Call Of Duty with zombies in it. And I thought, oh, being such a good wife and I’m giving him this video game and most wives probably don’t want their husbands playing video games all night. And we ripped it open and we started playing it on December 26, the day after Christmas. And basically I got hooked on the zombie game and I was on there until he was falling asleep at 6AM (we started at midnight). I literally did not think we’d be playing more than thirty minutes. I thought I’d help him explore the game, and I got hooked on it. And that was before I booked my first video game – I booked Battlefield after that, and then Call Of Duty. And because CoD zombies was my first foray back into the video game world, it was so timely. I was so out of touch because the last game I played was Super Mario or Street Fighter. We’re talking about a different generation of consoles here. So it was good, it was perfect timing, because I became a fan of the CoD franchise and then I ended up being in three CoD’s after that – I was also in Advance Warfare and the China edition.
So I did start playing again, and after that came Overwatch. It’s constantly updated in a live manner. The devs and Jeff Kaplan of Overwatch are always patching things up and improving gameplay. Our characters are always either taken down a notch or moved up a notch. And because of all those changes and the connection that I have with the fans, I’ve found it be really important that I’m able to relate to them and to be able to enjoy the game alongside them. So I play the game as often as I can – I’m on the road a lot, I’m always shooting something or recording on another project, so I don’t always get the chance. But when I am home, I try to play as much as possible so I can familiarize myself with all the changes as well as all the new characters. And also expose myself to, for example, the toxicity I see in video gaming that. The cast of all the video games I’ve been on have been have always been advocates of trying to stop the cyberbullying that happens in gaming. And so, for me, all the positive and negative experiences of the gaming world make it really important for me to play as much as I can. It’s part of the job, but it’s also very fun and cathartic.
G: With that set-up, here comes the big question I’ve been waiting to ask you – shortly after Overwatch came out, an Overwatch fan with a sense of humor made a little version of DVa as the ultimate gamer girl, the Gremlin DVa. Have you seen Gremlin DVa, and if so, what do you think of her?
CHUNG: I absolutely LOVE Gremlin DVa! People are always surprised when I say that, but she’s the best! A lot of times, these characters, their stories come out in the cinematics – I personally love the Mae cinematic, and the most recent one, Reinhardt’s, that came out. After a while, they become three dimensional. And the fact that the fans have taken DVa into the fandom and in a completely different direction than expected from Blizzard’s perspective, I think is amazing. I think that it makes her very human, I think it makes her very relatable, I don’t know what girl doesn’t love drinking soda and eating chip in her underwear and playing video games – I don’t know what woman WOULDN’T want to do that. And I think it makes DVa a wonderful character and one that’s three dimensional and also human but also super fantastic. I wouldn’t have it any other way. I would say, maybe, 25% of all the things that I sign have something to do with Gremlin DVa, and I’m very proud of her.
G: So what was your reaction when Blizzard made the Gremlin canon? When DVa got the emote where she sits in her mekka, playing video games, eating chips, and slamming Dew? What was your reaction when you saw that, and how long did it take you to get that emote for yourself?
CHUNG: Oh my God! I think it’s so amazing! It speaks to the Blizzard community. One of the things that I think is so great about video games in general, and Overwatch in particular…if you’re a fan of television or movies – for example, I’m a fan of anything Marvel – when you’re enjoying a genre like that, you can’t necessarily interact. What’s amazing about Overwatch is the devs and Overwatch family at Blizzard, they’re always listening to the praise and criticism of the fans. The fact that you hear lines like, “Hey, Daddy-O!”, which is in reference to the lore of Soldier 76 being DVa’s father (which isn’t canon but they make those sorts of references), or the romance between Lucio and DVa, or Widowmaker and DVa with Widowmaker calling DVa a child and DVa going, “Who are you calling a child?!?” All of these things are a direct result, I would say – I’m not going to speak on behalf of Blizzard – but I would say are a direct result of the fan communication and the gamers communicating with Blizzard. When I see things that are reflective of the fans and the community actually coming out in the game, I’m thrilled. I think it’s the most amazing symbiotic community that we have going on here, so I love it.
G: I love Gremlin DVa myself, I think she’s hilarious. And I’m a long time gamer, so I’ve seen plenty of examples of things that start off clear or innocent and they get corrupted by Rule 34. The little Gremlin is the first thing I can think of where a character starts off sexy and winds up in the opposite direction. Do you find that rewarding that people are that into the character that they see something more than just window dressing?
CHUNG: I do. I just learned about the terminology “Rule 34” for the first time this past weekend in Washington DC….
G: Oh, dear.
CHUNG: They were like, “You don’t know what that means?” I mean, yeah, I am familiar with the adult content that’s out there with the Overwatch characters – I don’t watch it myself, but I’m familiar with it. And the Rule 34 thing came out and I said, “What is that?” and they’re like, “…you don’t know?” But I do. I think that Asian characters in particular, and female characters in particular, in video games are often sexualized unnecessarily. I don’t think sexuality is a negative thing, but when that is used to make a character interesting in a video game, I don’t think that’s the only way to make a woman interesting in a video game. As a feminist and an advocate for diversity myself, of all sexual orientations and all ethnicities and men and women and all of that, I think it’s so cool to see that she went from this cute, adorable, sexy character to having gone the opposite direction. I think that’s amazing, and I think it speaks to the changing times and how people are able to start viewing women in different ways. So it’s cool to see this cool and composed beautiful woman turned into this crazy slob. I love it.
G: When you play Overwatch, who is your main, and which character do you hate to versus? I main DVa and Junkrat, and I absolutely HATE Roadhog, I just want to strangle him with that chain.
CHUNG: I main DVa. My husband is like you, he mains DVa and Junkrat, as well. That seems to be a very common pairing for people to main. I played Roadhog for two weeks on PC because my friend told me I need to get used to other characters. Then I got a PS4, and I’ve only played DVa, I’ve never played anyone else. I think I’ve done some practice with Soldier 76.
Somebody that I don’t like going up against? I think Mae. Mae is bae, but she is also super savage, she is just so deadly….
G: She can one-shot you from across the map!
CHUNG: Exactly! The freeze that she does, and how easily she can just paralyze and kill, she’s ruthless. So I would say Mae is someone I don’t look forward to going up against. And visually speaking, Reaper. This makes me sound like such a wuss, but Reaper just scares me visually.
G: What is the strangest thing you have ever been asked to sign?
CHUNG: When I was at BlizzCon 2016…I signed body parts, this one girl at San Diego, she had me sign her arm and she got it tattooed. But the weirdest thing I was asked to sign was a mannequin’s hand. I was signing a whole bunch of things super fast because I was trying to get to everyone in line, and all of a sudden, a very heavy, sort of flesh colored hand got placed in front of me. I looked up and said, “…uh…what is this?” She’s like, “Can I get you to sign it? I wanted to get you to sign something that would be the most memorable to you so you wouldn’t forget me.” And I have never forgotten her or that hand.