I had the pleasure of connecting with Carolina Ravassa, the voice actor for Sombra in Overwatch, at SXSW this year. We grabbed some drinks and chatted for a little while. I’ve picked out some of the best sections of the interview we recorded and transcribed them here for you. Thank you, Carolina, for doing this! Readers, enjoy!
You went to Boston College for acting—how was that? What’s acting school like?
Well, it’s a liberal arts college, so it wasn’t just acting: it was a bit of everything. I loved studying at Boston College. They do a really good job of teaching us all the different trades in the theatre department. I got to build sets and we worked on costumes and we did all kinds of fun stuff that I think have helped me just in life in general. I know how to use power tools, you know? But also, it was just a great experience all around. Really good theatre teachers and I met some wonderful friends. Boston was a good experience for me.
How did you end up doing the voice of Sombra in Overwatch?
My agency gets us auditions based on the voices they know we can do, and for Sombra, they needed someone who could do a Hispanic accent and who could also do a Mexican accent in Spanish, so I just auditioned as if it were any other audition.
Did you know what you were auditioning for?
No. Well, they did say it was Overwatch and that her name was Noche—Night. I didn’t care to look it up because when I’ve worked on other video games like GTA and Max Payne, we would work on the video games and we wouldn’t know what they were because they were so secretive, so I just assumed this was the secret name and I didn’t realize what it was. It was a couple months later that they called to say, “Hey you booked this thing, you know, Noche. Do you remember?” At that point they said Sombra, and I’m like, “I thought it was Noche, but sure whatever.”
So, I went in for a four-hour session and we recorded a chunk of stuff, but even then, I didn’t realize that Overwatch was so big and that Sombra would be so big either. I just I kept recording, thinking, “Oh good it’s a gig.” I’m gonna pay my bills! I didn’t realize how cool it would end up being and then my agents said, “Yeah she might recur,” so we thought they’d call us for a few other sessions, and I was happy, just because that meant a paycheck—and work, which is fun. But I didn’t realize . . . Sombra is a thing, you know?
What’s been the most surprising thing about voicing for Sombra and for such a big game?
I guess I didn’t realize the level of fandom that comes with it. Everyone asks me questions about her, assuming that I know all the answers, which I think is funny because half the time I tell them, “I don’t know,” and they think I’m lying. I try to tell them, “No really!” like, I don’t know what her real name is. I don’t ask these questions because Blizzard has their level of mystery.
How much do they tell you about the character when you go into the booth?
I knew when I auditioned that she was like Jessica Jones meets . . . some other badass character. So, I kind of went in knowing she was a little jaded, a little “F U,” but super cool with an everything’s-always-under-control attitude. I love playing those characters, like cops and FBI agents and stuff like that, so I understood what the type was. But even when we were recording, it was just a matter of, “Every line has to have a little badassery, a little nonchalance, a little I’m too cool for school.”
They told you this?
Well as we recorded, Andrea would say, “Okay that was awesome. Let’s just make her a little more badass here,” or, “Let’s bring in that Sombra-like cadence. You know, Sombra’s really funny, this is a funny line, let’s make her comedy shine through.” So, I like that she is badass, but she’s also always making fun of people and I dig that.
You mentioned working games versus not working games. What’s it like working in regular film and TV versus working for a game voiceover? Is the process different in terms of auditioning and getting into it?
If auditions are on camera, besides your amazing acting, they care about what you look like. Are you going to fit the character? Are you too pretty? Are you too ugly? Are you fat or are you skinny or whatever, you know? And also does your face fit what they want. So on-camera is a whole other level because it’s not just your voice and your energy for the character, but it’s also how you look and if you’re gonna fit the main actor or your love interest—there’s so much that goes into play there. I think on-camera can be more natural just because you know you’re interacting with somebody and it’s just a normal conversation and dialogue, versus when you’re in a booth you’re kind of in this very fake scenario and you have to imagine a lot of things.
Which would you say is more stressful?
Oh, I wouldn’t call any of them stressful! Once you have the job, it’s super fun. Auditions can be nerve-wracking. I get more nervous for on-camera auditions because they’re watching you and ideally you should be off-book so that you’re not reading the lines. For voiceover work, you read a script so they don’t want you to be off-book—and that’s fine—so you can just really focus on the character instead of thinking, “I’m holding the script and they saw me look at my paper and now I forgot the line and now I’m nervous.” So, in that sense I get more nervous for on-camera stuff. Once we have the job though, I don’t get so nervous. I just trust that, you know, I’m here for a reason. I always knew they liked my Sombra and Andrea was so positive—“Ah my god that was so great! Okay let’s do that again!”—and just gave me some changes for the lines. That’s always great—when you get positive reassurance that you’re doing something right. They’re great at guiding us.
So, what advice would you give to aspiring actors who want to go through that audition process and go through that process of getting into and breaking into a highly competitive industry? What advice would you give to people who are also trying to go through it, like recent college graduates or anyone just trying to break into the process?
Well, you don’t need to take a voiceover class, but I did and I think it helped me. My voiceover class helped me to understand what they want in a voiceover, what lines or words need to pop and how you create a good character. Besides that, I think just being an actor who cares about the work is important. I think the most important thing is patience, really, because I’ve been professionally working for nine or ten years and just now Sombra came about. Yes, I’ve done a lot of voiceover work in the past—I’ve narrated stuff for documentaries and all sorts of weird voice jobs—but it just takes a lot of perseverance and drive and persistence. So, if you really love it, you can’t give up. You just keep going. Because imagine if I had given up last year. Sombra hadn’t come out. They hadn’t auditioned her.
So honestly, I think that the way to make it is just sticking with it long enough and understanding that it doesn’t define who you are—how much success you’ve had so far. Your life is bigger than that and this is a part of it. Of course it’s my career, but I enjoy other things in life: my friends, my family . . . you know you just have to love what you’re doing to stick with it.
But god it really is hard work, you know? People say, “Oh you guys much have so much fun!” Oh, now we do, because we have the job. But getting the job is so hard—and heartbreaking. There are so many roles I wish I had gotten that I didn’t. And I have friends who auditioned for Sombra—Mexican friends—who didn’t get it and my heart goes out to them, but I also understand that they have different voice qualities. I have this little badass that lives deep inside of me and that’s where Sombra came from. And maybe they didn’t and they’re sweeter or something else. I have a very dry sense of humor, which I think is where Sombra also gets hers. So, it’s just about sticking with it, and if you really love it, you go with it. If you think you want to do something else in your life that would make you happy, do that, because acting is heartbreaking all the time. All the time. We don’t get 99% of the roles we audition for.
While you were in college or while you were looking for work initially, did you have any mentors that were supporting you? And how did you go about building those relationships with mentors and people that you can turn to for advice?
It’s funny. I don’t think you find a mentor by looking for one. I’ve had different people at different points in my career give me really great advice. The first short film I did was with this Venezuelan guy called Manolo Celi and he had this crazy belief in me, that I could do anything and to this day—I haven’t talked to him in a while—but I remember how he just believed I was going to make it no matter what. When I was having really tough times, I’d call him and say, “I’ve effed up five auditions that I just went on. I can’t get out of my head, I’m thinking too much,” and he’d give me these exercises to do or he’d suggest I write. So I think at different points of my life I have different people who guide me differently. Right now, I’m friends with this actor called Dallas Roberts, and he’s obviously more successful than I am, but he’s taught me to care a little less about stuff and not worry so much. There’s something to be said about that. So, I think I’ve had different people in different moments guiding me in different ways.
What about peers? Do you think having a network of peers is good?
Oh god, that’s more important than mentors I think. Because I have a good group of actor friends—there’s five of us. We have a little chat on WhatsApp and it’s funny: we’re all Hispanic from different countries and we believe in sharing information with each other and I let them know I’m going to this audition and that they should go, or one of them will write, “Hey I got this audition! Should I wear hoops or a dress?” We help each other out, and if I can’t do something, I’ll recommend my Columbian friend because they need a Columbian accent. I think that sharing that is so valuable because, really, if I keep all the auditions to myself, that’s not good karma. I really believe in spreading this good juju, because it all comes back, you know. Especially at auditions. Like, I walk into a room and usually I like to smile at the other actresses that are there and say, “Hey what’s up,” or, “Break a leg,” or, “Ooh how do you say this word?” I think that we can just be friends. I think that the competition that sometimes happens among people can create bad energy and I don’t really like that.
Is it disheartening to walking into an audition knowing that there are twenty other people that are carbon copies of you? How would you fight that, if you’re feeling disheartened by that fact?
I think I just need to know that what I bring to the table is different from everyone else because of my upbringing and my—of course—my race and ethnicity. But besides that—not even the training you have—just who you are as a person brings different things to the role. After many years, I’ve come to understand that it’s all about bringing yourself to a role and how that could be unique. Like if I have a weird eye twitch and they like that, they might go with that, versus all these other actresses who created this perfect character. I’ve always had a really deep voice as a girl and I feel like I didn’t get that commercial stuff because I don’t have this peppy thing.
But Sombra’s not peppy. I think maybe this was meant to be, in the sense that we all get different things, and Sombra was for me. So, we bring different things to the role, and we need to trust that. We need to be confident in that if they didn’t choose me—well maybe yeah, I bombed the audition—but maybe I just brought something different to the role that they didn’t want and they wanted something else and there’ll be something else for me. So just knowing that what you bring is enough and it might just be different than what they need. Don’t take it personally.
How do you deal with rejection? I know that a lot of game developers, tying back to what Black Shell Media does, have tried many times to make prototypes, tried to get products out there, tried and started and failed so many different times, and after a while, a lot of feedback I get is that it gets very disheartening after a while, just having to constantly face rejection, not getting your projects greenlit and having to give up so many times. I guess the trite piece of advice is, “Keep your eye on the big picture, there’s something bigger coming for you!” I’m not saying that’s BS, but it’s very hard to focus on the big picture when all you’re seeing is no’s.
Well I think part of it is knowing, like I said before, that your life isn’t defined by these auditions. Oh my god, I’ve cried over roles, I’ve been heartbroken. Yes I’ve been angry, and there are points where—I’ve never really thought of quitting—but I have friends who have. Or there are moments where I just need to get away and say, “Eff this business,” but I think it’s knowing, “Okay, so I had a set of bad auditions,” and moving on. This is a new day, But also thinking things like, “Oh I’m really looking forward to this family vacation.”
I started a web series that I shoot on my own where I play all these characters, and that’s given me a lot of positive light and fun stuff to do so even if I bomb an audition that I just went to. I say to myself, “I’m gonna go home and shoot this new character that I love.” So, if we create stuff for ourselves and are excited for other things in our lives that aren’t just this shitty audition—like sometimes we shoot stuff and it gets cut anyways, so it doesn’t even make it into the damn movie. You know, we can book a role and then not be in the movie. There are so many levels of heartbreak, because you can get something and then it doesn’t go—or the pilot doesn’t get picked up. So, it doesn’t even stop at the audition room: it keeps going. Or the movie, it just bombs, and then . . . oh great nobody watched it? So in that sense, I think that it’s just . . . keep on moving, you know? Find other stuff that makes you happy and if it’s what you love, you keep going, no matter what.
Make sure you have that work-life balance, I guess, so you have things to turn to when things aren’t going well.
Totally. Totally. Family, friends, I mean when I’m having a really tough time, my parents are incredibly supportive. My two sisters are the bomb. So it’s just having a strong network and knowing that you’re bigger than that, not just that role. And sometimes, I’ve dodged bullets. I’m like, “I didn’t get this movie,” and then it’s a piece of crap and I think, “Thank god I didn’t get that movie!” So you know sometimes things happen for a reason and we just have to understand that. I mean as hokey pokey as I wanna sound like, the universe is gonna give you what’s meant for you. And I mean, it sounds so easy as I’m saying it right now. I still go through heartbreak. I just auditioned for something and of course I didn’t get it, so it’s like, damn I wanted to be on Orange is the New Black and all these shows shot in New York. So, it happens constantly and I think we just get better at dealing with it.
What advice would you give to aspiring creators, aspiring entrepreneurs, aspiring people who want to do something that’s nontraditional, want to do something that’s not engineering/science?
Well I think nowadays you can google anything, so—no really—so check out what you want to do. A lot of people ask me on Twitter things like, “How did you become a voice actor? What do I do?” Hey, look at blogs, listen to podcasts. I always recommend Crispin Freeman who does a great voice actor podcast on how to get into the business. Do your research. Don’t just say, “How do I become a voice actor?” My friend, there’s a lot of work that goes into these things.
And it’s a long process. It starts at college or even earlier.
It is! Don’t think that you’re just going to audition and book something. You might have a great voice, but that doesn’t mean that you’re right for that character. So, doing some research, believing in yourself, bringing yourself to your project. Because you know a lot of things die because they’re a little bland. I think that the projects that are unique and successful are because you brought yourself to them. My web series, only I could have made it. Even if somebody copied the format, nobody’s me. Nobody’s going to bring my characters to the table, because I’m me and I’m bringing it. So, I think that anything you really put your heart into is going to be unique, instead of this cookie cutter mold of, “Well this is how you do that”. Believe in yourself and work your butt off. By all means, really. Nowadays you have to work your butt off.