Last week, we had the chance to chat with Julie Dolan, voice of Princess Leia from the Star Wars: The Force Awakens play set in Disney Infinity 3.0 and Star Wars Rebels.
Our hour long chat touched on a range of topics, from Rebels to Disney Infinity to her prior work at theme parks like Universal Studios and amusing tales from her work on Gilmore Girls and Without a Trace.
Below are the portions relevant to Disney Infinity and Star Wars Rebels, with details on how she landed the gig and learned to sound like Carrie Fisher to become our new Princess Leia.
The text below isn’t an exact transcription, but a condensed version to make it more reader friendly! If you want to hear the full chat, scroll down to the bottom of the page where you can listen to it!
Dan: Leading up to this, were you a Disney fan?
Julie: I’m a theme park girl. I worked at Universal Studios for 11 years.
Dan: What did you do at Universal?
Julie: I was a costumed character dancer in the American Tale: Fievel Goes West, The Flintstones, The Land Before Time, Rocky and Bullwinkle, The Rugrats. I went from show to show.
For Disney, it was in 1996. I was in a show for 101 Dalmatians. They show the movie at El Capitan Theater, which is on Hollywood Boulevard. It’s the big premiere. They show the movie, and they have a live action show with lots of characters right before. I did that for several months. I think we did around 12 shows a day.
It was a Christmas show. I was a dancer in the show. I was a Dalmatian and a toy soldier.
Dan: You started in the industry as a dancer, or were you more into character work and acting?
Julie: Yes. I was an actress. I was nine when I started acting. I was three when I started dancing lessons.
Dan: What road led to you being Princess Leia? It’s got to be interesting.
Julie: It is. I was 2010, I believe. I got a phone call from my agent, and she said, “Can you sound like Princess Leia?” Now I had seen Star Wars, but I wasn’t a Star Wars geeky fan. I have to be honest. I was not at that point.
I said, “Gosh, I don’t know.” Nobody’s ever said to me, “You sound like Carrie Fisher from Star Wars.” She [my agent] said, “Here’s the Obi-Wan Kenobi speech, the one from A New Hope. Read it, record it, send it to me, and I will send it to Disney.” I said, “What is this for?” She said, “No idea. They won’t tell you.”
When you voice match, you either have it or you don’t. It’s either in your voice or it’s not — you can try to fake it a little bit and try to sound like it, and maybe you’ll get away with it — but if they can find somebody that sounds like her already without having to put an affectation on it, then it’s better.
I’m listening to my voice, I’m listening to her voice. My husband said, “Yeah, you sound like her, but let’s get your pitch a little bit lower. Let’s try to match her emotion. Let’s try to match the gait. Let’s try to match the rhythm, the everything.”
I did my best. I recorded it, and I sent it in. I didn’t hear anything for a couple weeks. Then my agent calls me and says, “Oh, you have a callback.”
They said, “It’s between you and one or two other girls. They want you to go into Disney Imagineering Studios, and they want to direct you. They want to record you, and they want to hire a vocal coach because they want you to have that in and out English accent that she had. They want you to do that.”
Dan: You went into the Imagineering Studios, went into the sound booth, worked with their sound guys.
Julie: Went into the sound booth. They worked us through it. We recorded it, and as I stepped out of the booth, they had a hologram of Carrie Fisher, but they manipulated her mouth to say what I was saying. Those engineers are so amazing.
I’m starting to understand what this project is, because you’re talking to people in a ride. I’m like, “A ride? What? Oh, it must be for Disneyland,” because they were revamping Star Tours.
The speech was talking to the Star Speeders, and “We’ve placed a rebel spy vital to the survival of the Rebellion into your Star Speeder, etc.” You’re talking to the people in the ride.
When I stepped out of the studio, and I looked up at the hologram, they manipulated the mouth to make it say what I was just saying. It sounded exactly like Carrie Fisher. I said, “Is that me, or is that her?” They said, “No, that’s what you just recorded.”
They’re able to pitch shift it and whatever they can do to make my voice sound exactly like her. That’s when I realized, “I get it.” They heard something in my voice, and they knew, “We can manipulate it enough to make it sound like her.”
That’s what you hear when you go to Disneyland, Disney Studios in Florida and Tokyo Disney. It will soon be in Paris in 2017.
Dan: Now they’re coming to you for the games. The games primarily have been the main thing that you’ve done since then, and then now Rebels, right, because Rebels came after Infinity?
Julie: No, the first thing I did after this was after Rebels. I got a call from Dave Filoni, who directs, produces and writes Rebels. He went to Disneyland and Star Tours. I saw him say in an interview they found me because they watched Star Tours.
They brought me into where they record Rebels, and I had no idea what I was there for. They put a motion capture helmet on me. They had dots all over me.
I had to do a scene with C-3PO and R2D2. I did not know what it was for. They said, “It’s some in-house Disney project.” I don’t know. It could have been just another audition to see how I would work with Dave. Dave directed me.
Then at the end of that, he said, “OK, when you come in for Rebels,” and I thought, “Oh, did I book the job? Oh, my God! I didn’t even audition. Or maybe this WAS my audition for Rebels”
I went home, and a few months later, got the script and went in to record on Rebels. That was a year ago. Everything else came after Rebels. The games, the other project that I can’t talk about. Rebels was first.
Dan: When you went in to record for Infinity, there must have just been pages and pages of sides you had to do.
Julie: Yes, and I had no idea what I was talking about, either. Some of the words, I think I pronounced wrong because I’m not familiar with all of the Star Wars lingo. When I did Force Awakens, it hadn’t come out yet, so I didn’t even know what BB-8 was.
After I saw the movie, I thought, “OK, now I get what I was saying.” They don’t really tell you. You’re in a small booth. You’ve got an engineer on one side of the window, and you’ve got your director in your ears.
Then you’ve got the game person, who’s also directing. They’re both giving you feedback on how they want you to deliver the line emotionally, because they’ve seen the whole script.
They know if the character is upset. They know if she’s trying to drive a point home. They know if she’s vulnerable. They know where she is supposed to be emotionally. I just blindly deliver the line.
They really give you complete direction, because I don’t know what the story is.
Dan: How did you approach sounding like modern Carrie Fisher?
Julie: When I got into the studio, they said, “We want you to do current Leia.” I said, “What?” They said, “We want you to sound like Leia from The Force Awakens.”
I had to study what Carrie sounds like now. I listened to some of her interviews. I said, “Well, I’ve listened to some of her interviews, but I don’t know if I have that gravel. I’ll do my best. That’s all I can do, is my best.”
They said, “Well, we have a snippet” — this is before the movie came out — “a snippet of her voice from the movie, and that’s all we could get.” It was so fast, and I said, “That’s not going to help me.”
I had to lower my voice and get that gravel that she had. I had to talk really low, because if I start talking louder, the pitch goes up, and I sound like younger Leia.
So I did the voice. It was for Disney Infinity 3.0: The Force Awakens. I’m all through it as current Leia. I watched it, and I said, “You know what? It works.” It doesn’t sound exactly like her, but it works.
Dan: Tell me about the voice over process. Did you get to see what Leia looked like in Infinity or Rebels? Are you just walking in there blind?
Julie: In a lot of the voice overs that I’ve done for animation, I’ve done a lot of dubbing, where it’s from Japanese to English, so I’m watching, and I’m matching the mouth. Even for Sophia The First, there was a baby, and I had to do the baby voice. I was watching him, matching the rhythm of his mouth.
Rebels was the first time I walked in, and there was nothing to watch. They hadn’t even drawn her yet. They showed me a little sketch of what she’s going to look like, but nothing was animated yet.
I’m blindly doing the lines, but all of the actors were there. It was almost like we were doing a play. We were reading it, we were reacting to each other. I noticed that all the actors were very animated in their movements. I thought, “Well, that’s interesting.”
That’s what voice actors do. They get very animated because it helps project their emotion. Little did I know, there was a camera on me. Turns out that camera is watching my movements, so the animators can then draw Leia off of what I’m doing. I thought, “Oh, had I known!”
I watched all six movies several times as preparation because I had to study who Leia was and where she came from and what her goals were and who her parents were and how she got the strength that she had as a leader, which I believe she got from her real mother, Padme.
I watched a lot of Leia, and a lot of her movements. They kind of came natural to me. That’s how the animators drew her for Rebels. When I would go in for all the games, again, it’s a blank screen. I had no idea what I was going to look like until I actually saw it, until I found it on YouTube.
Dan: They didn’t say, “Oh, by the way, that game that you recorded, and you’re one of the major characters in, it’s out now”?
Julie: They didn’t send it to me. I had to find it on YouTube. They’re too busy. They’re busy working on the next thing, so I have to find it myself.
Dan: Have you met Carrie Fisher?
Julie: Not yet, but I’m sure at one of the conventions — I’m going to start doing the conventions — I’m hoping to meet her.
Dan: Will we get to see and hear more of you in the future?
Julie: Now there’s Star Wars Land. I just talked to the casting director, and he said, “Oh, yeah, we’ll be seeing you again.”
*LISTEN TO THE FULL AUDIO OF THE CHAT BELOW!*
We can’t wait to see what Julie appears in next!
A big thanks again to Julie Dolan for sitting down with us. We had such a great time, and the giddy excitement of getting to talk to her still hasn’t worn off.
Make sure you go give Julie some love and follow her on social media! You can find here here:
If you guys are interested in hearing more about her non-Star Wars-related work, let us know, and we can put out a followup with more details from the rest of our chat.
Podcast Audio: Julie Dolan – The New Voice Of Princess Leia
One of Dan’s other projects is a podcast all about puppetry! The podcast is called “Getting Felt Up – A Puppetry Podcast with Dan & Nate” and it covers a wide range of topics from puppeteers, puppet builders, voice over artists, special effects artists and more!
Dan (semi-professional part time puppeteer) with his good friend Nate (professional full time puppeteer & voice over artist) have friends and contacts through the many worlds of puppetry including the Muppets, Henson, Sesame Street & Disney. If you are interested in any and all things puppets, you should check out the podcast and subscribe!
Check out Getting Felt Up – A Puppetry Podcast on:
Below is the audio from the chat Dan had with Julie about her career and voice over work. The chat extends beyond the condensed dialogue above and continues onto some of her puppetry and performance background.
If you want to learn more about puppets and the podcast, here is our short list of recommended episodes:
- Ep. #5 Noel MacNeal (Bear from Bear In The Big Blue House)
- Ep. #15 Kirk Thatcher (Muppet Director, Worked on ET, Star Wars, Star Treck & More!)
- Ep. #41 Trace Beaulieu (Crow T. Robot from MST3K)
- Ep. #50 Lucky Yates (Kreiger from Archer & Puppeteer)