Editor’s note: this interview contains major spoilers from the first four episodes of Life Is Strange.
When Remember Me developer Dontnod Entertainment released Life Is Strange Episode 1: Chrysalis earlier this year, there were high expectations for the title, an eagerness to see a refreshing take on the episodic story-driven format, a desire to have real meaning behind the choices made and to witness the start of protagonist Maxine Caulfield’s coming-of-age story. As the final few minutes of Episode 1: Chrysalis came to an emotional close, it was evident that this would be a series that would continue to powerfully resonate for the player with each episode’s release, as it was easy to become immersed with the characters, universe and mysteries that were being presented in the narrative.
While the quality of the writing and dialogue have polarized critics — although the title has vastly improved in these aspects with each episode’s release — the voice acting is a factor that has remained consistent and brilliant throughout every episode, especially when it comes to the on-screen chemistry shared between the voice actresses for Max and Chloe Price: Hannah Telle and Ashly Burch respectively.
We had the privilege to sit down with Hannah Telle for an exclusive interview, in which she shared her experiences of working with Dontnod on Life Is Strange, her own views on Max’s personality and representation, the themes depicted in the series thus far as well as the direct influence her personal life and roles in other mediums (theater, films, etc.) have had on her performance as Max.
[Hardcore Gamer] Let’s jump straight into this: how did you become involved with Life Is Strange? Was there anything that vividly stood out from the audition?
I did performance capture for the twin sisters Iris and Rose Campbell in Murdered: Soul Suspect. The company who cast me for that game called me to audition for the role of Max Caulfield last July.
I remember the audition like it was yesterday. I was in the middle of an emotional breakdown and really struggled to make it into the Blindlight office to read for Max. I hadn’t eaten and my stomach was growling like crazy while we recorded. I did my best, but I was in such poor spirits that I was convinced I had done a terrible job and ruined the audition. I was crying like crazy on the drive home! When they emailed me with an offer for the role, I was stunned and overjoyed. Having the ongoing job of Max’s voice became an amazing life raft for me to cling to while I was navigating the tricky waters of depression and the loss of loved ones earlier this year.
We’re curious to hear if there are any warm-up routines that you would normally do before voicing the role of Max?
Yes! I always pray that God will help me to do my best and not hold back while we record. Then, on the drive to the recording studio, I blast the radio in my car and sing along really loudly! That really helps get me in the mood to speak up and be heard, which is hard for me sometimes.
Yes! I have always loved drama, but somewhere during the course of my career I started feeling like I was only succeeding at playing sweet and cute roles. However, there is a lot more to my personality than that and I longed to express the other side. Right before I played Max, I got a role as a very strong girl in a short film called “Flesh and Blood” by Merlin Camozzi. She was struggling to survive the apocalypse and determined to care for her father and younger sister. Her name was also Max, oddly enough! That role was full of so many emotions: fear, sadness, burden and pain. It was the most cathartic feeling to express those facets of myself. I feel like that role really prepared me to believe in my dramatic capacity and allow myself to be more than a happy-go-lucky façade, which, in turn, paved the way for me to play Max.
Max’s representation has caught the eye of many people for being one of the strongest female leads in a title. With the gaming industry in an ever-changing state and continuing to embrace more and more female heroines, do you think Max will be held up as one of the most memorable protagonists of her time?
I think Max is unique because she represents girls out there who feel plagued by insecurities and are suffering from the turmoil of trying not to silence your own voice. Max’s struggle to believe in herself and her art is at the heart of the game for me. Watching her grow from being achingly shy into a tenacious and confident young woman who stands up for what she believes in has helped me to do the same in my life. I know that there are lots of other girls out there like me who share Max’s pain and are feeling themselves growing with Max past that fear and into a new place of hope, bravery and self-assurance. It’s been a truly extraordinary experience.
What has it been like collaborating with Ashly Burch on Life Is Strange? She’s continuing to become an established voice actress in the gaming industry, so what was the experience like working with her?
The very first time I recorded for the game was with Ashly. I came into the studio and got to watch her do a dual recording session with Don McManus, the voice of David Madsen. She was wildly inspiring. I was (and still am) in awe of her confidence and ease with vocal projection. When we started our first recording session together, it was quickly clear to me that this was going to be an astounding experience as an actor. It didn’t feel like we were acting. I felt instantly connected to her and believed that she really was this person. I felt so much of Max’s inwardness and uncertainty and Ashly was boiling over with this explosive, anger-driven attitude. We seamlessly fell into this synchronicity. She so fully embodies the spirit of Chloe that she feels like the real Chloe to me. I know what Chloe looks like in the game, but when I think of the character, I can only see Ashly in my mind.
Has it been intense working with Dontnod Entertainment to meet the ‘tight deadlines‘ between each episode? At what point do they normally bring you into the studio to record dialogue?
It has been intense at times, but also filled with fun and laughter. The ups and downs are all part of the journey of creating something, so I try to embrace everything. We record here in LA with the insanely incredible VO director Philip Bache, along with a sound technician (which is usually the endlessly sweet Mark de la Fuente) and a coordinator who keeps us on track time-wise. Dontnod Entertainment is brought in via Skype from France to participate in the recording sessions. Until we finally met for dinner while they were in LA for E3, I had only ever heard their voices! They have the coolest French accents! Sometimes there is a lot of pressure to get things right as fast as possible, but I feel that we all make a great team and always get what we need for each episode.
This interview continues on page two, with Hannah talking about her love for music, sharing her views on Life Is Strange’s themes, the forthcoming Episode 5: Polarized, the title’s critical and commercial success and also offering some words of wisdom for aspiring voice actors/actresses.