Ellen Dubin [Interview]


Hey Folks! We have another absolutely amazing interview for you all today which keeps in line with our love for both strong female voice over artist and actresses as well as our undying desire to talk about Fallout 4! Because if I have to admit it, if I am not working on this blog, or it sometimes becomes stagnant for a couple of weeks, I am probably getting sucked into my 42nd play through of Fallout 4. Nevertheless, we have some amazing words from a truly amazing and talented individual to share with you all today!

Ellen Dubin is a brilliant actress and voice over artist who has been involved with just so many of your favorite projects, it’s hard to really narrow them all down. We talk about a couple of specific projects that I personally love and enjoy to this very day, including the aforementioned Fallout 4 where she actually voices the roles of two characters that I have probably killed with every play through I have ever done of the game. I feel kinda bad about it now that I know Ellen is such a nice and wonderful person. But in all honesty, I just did it again about a month after getting these amazing answers from her. So I guess I am not to be trusted. Another role from Ellen that you all will know and love is her work as Ilene in the seminal classic film Napoleon Dynamite. It’s such an amazing film, and while Ellen was one of the characters you wanted to hate, you sort of had to understand her whole side of the ordeal in a way. Maybe? I don’t know, that might be a stretch?

The point is that Ellen has not only been able to pull off the roles of somewhat dubious characters both in front of the camera and in voice over roles, which seems like a breathtakingly hard task to pull off. And her career spanning close to 30 years has given us so damn much to be impressed by, and we just so damned lucky that she was willing to take some time to answer some of our questions in great length and give some beautiful insight into her amazing career thus far. Sometimes we just get so lucky that we find people that are as extremely talented as Ellen and they also happen to be just so damn nice!

So with that, please enjoy some amazing words from the brilliant Ellen Dubin!

When did you decide that you wanted to play pretend for a living? Was it a long term yearning to be an actress that brought you into this world, or did you just find yourself within the world one day?

I never set out to be an actress. Most of my actor friends had that dream right from the start. I was a very shy insecure child with flat feet and poor posture and my wonderful parents enrolled me in ballet classes to gain confidence, relate to other children ,stand up straighter and get stronger feet.  At the end of each season there would be a ballet recital. It was there on stage where I could feel the most confident. I loved the live reaction of an audience and  relating to them and working off their energy.  If I was doing a dramatic ballet, I would always do an extra arm wave -my dying swan took a lot longer to die. If I was doing a comedy ballet, I would wait for the laugh before I did the next step. It was in this world of make-believe that I felt alive and at home. In this world of pretend, I was bitten by the performing bug and wanted to continue to strive for more and more and learn everything I could. My ballet teacher who was very blunt used to say to me : “You are not a great technical dancer but you have the ability to make an audience feel and laugh.”

I ended up having a major knee injury at an audition for a ballet company and had to figure out what I was going to do with myself in this devastating time in my life. I went to university and took a couple of English literature courses that focused on Shakespeare , Greek comedy and tragedy and theater history. We also had to do shows as part of the curriculum. Mostly academic but also creative.  I realized that if I wanted to stay in the performing arts world, I had to continue learning -so outside of university,  I studied  other types of dance- jazz, character dancing and tap, singing, acting, piano ( my dad wanted me to be a concert pianist but I couldn’t sit still at the piano) , scene study and improvisation. I was fortunate enough to audition and land roles in various musicals.  The world of ballet taught me discipline  focus and artistic courage. I ended up doing a wide variety of theater productions from farce to drama to Shakespeare to musicals.  I feel the stage is the best training ground for the magical world of pretend.

So acting came about because of a knee injury….


What was your very first gig as an actress that you can remember working on? And did that experience help shape who you are as a performer today?

I think everything you do as an actor whether it turns out great or not shapes you as a performer and as a human being. I have learned something from every production I’ve been in .

My first paying gig was doing two musicals in repertory at a dinner theater where I not only performed in the shows but had to serve food at the intermission and before and after the shows. What a juggling act!  These two plays began the pattern of me being known as a very eclectic actress. A few nights a week, I would be playing the oldest earthy daughter in the amazing musical Fiddler On the Roof. And the other nights I would be playing a ditzy character with a squeaky voice in the 1920’s musical No No Nanette. These two characters could not be more polar opposite.That began my love of keeping an audience guessing! I was very lucky to start my career being very chameleon like. I loved doing research on the different time periods and really making specific character choices. I got a kick out of dealing with the costumes of the time period- what a great learning experience. Attention to detail became very important to me in everything I played. The experiences of being on stage and doing the same role every night for several months taught me how to keep a performance fresh and work with a team of other actors plus behind the scenes people. No matter what type of genre you work on in this business, I have always believed it’s a team effort. It taught me an appreciation  for everybody’s job in a production, as well.

Being on stage also gave me the technique  to be able to bring something up at the drop of a hat – an emotion quickly. Remember, you don’t have a chance at a second take. So you have to be so on point and aware of everything in the theater. So when I got  roles on television and film , I had a solid technique to draw on. I always stayed on set to watch the older actors, as well. I would hide in a corner when they were working and absorb everything. I feel like I am always learning ! No matter what genre you perform in, there is always more you can do with a role.

I still get butterflies before every job I do which is apparently a good thing- enthusiasm and nerves combined!

In 2004, you appeared in one of my all time favorite feel-good comedic films of all time, the now classic Napoleon Dynamite. I’ve never worked in the film industry, but I would love to imagine that film that is so fun to watch as this one would have a pretty fun set life as well. So what was your experience like during the filming of Napoleon Dynamite? Was it as much fun to work on as it was for us to watch?

I have to start off by saying that never in my wildest dreams did I have a clue that Napoleon Dynamite would become the anthemic comedy of a generation. I still get fan mail from this iconic comedy. I wanted  to share with the readers that I got this job because one of the producers was a fan of my Sci-Fi work. He had interviewed me for a Sci-Fi magazine about a wild and wacky show I did called Lexx. This goes back to the previous question where you never know where another job will lead so you learn to be appreciative of everyone you work with or who you are interviewed by.

Flash forward a few years later, I get a call from the man who interviewed me – now producer Chris Wyatt asking me if I wanted to work on a  film that shoots in Preston, Idaho? He sent me the script and I thought this is a bit weird but I had never been to Idaho, I hadn’t been offered anything at that point without an audition so I thought what the heck, I have nothing to lose. Sounds like it could be a fun experience! Nothing ventured; nothing gained!

Being on the set of Napoleon Dynamite, I have never laughed so much. When Jon Heder made his first entrance when I opened the door in our first scene, I have never had to suppress a laugh so hard in my life! I was literally biting my tongue because I wanted to scream with laughter. He stayed in character the whole time and every time I went by him I wanted to laugh like crazy.  One of the other delights of working on this movie was working with Efren Ramirez (Pedro). We worked on  a crazy comedy feature film  called Tammy and the Teenage T- Rex together. We could not keep a straight face about that film either- it starred Terry Kiser, Denise Richards and the late great Paul Walker.

There was constant fun on the set And I really enjoyed the lunch hour because we shot at an actual person’s house in Preston ,Idaho and we would eat in the backyard and sit and chat on the swing set like kids. It wasn’t fancy, We stayed in a very rundown motel –I was across from the fabulous Tina Marjorina . But I loved it!  One of the highlights of my career. Jared Hess , the director, was very specific about the style of comedy he wanted. Most comedies are high energy and fast paced. Napoleon Dynamite was very low key in its energy. We all had to take it down  a notch and it worked so perfectly. Very unusual style of comedy!

The reaction of the fans has been beyond heartwarming. This is a movie that  that had no budget and at the time had no A list movie stars and It was a multi-award winning  ginormous success.  It says a lot about content and characters , doesn’t it?  Filmgoers identified with this movie. There is a nerd in all of us! YEAH!

You have worked quite extensively on screen as an actress, but also as a voice over artists on so many animated or video game projects. I am always curious to know, as a brilliant artist working steadily in the two different functions, what would you say is your preferred method of performance? Are there benefits to each type of performance?

Every project I work on, I put my heart and soul into .The voiceover part of my career is the newest addition. I love the freedom of being a voiceover actor. I love the challenge of creating a world without props , costumes ,hair ,make up , set and the absence of the other actor. I can be 3 years old, I can be 300, I can be a lizard, I can be a queen! I am not judged on my physicality, my age, my gender. So that is a huge advantage as a performer. There’s more freedom to play different characters, for sure.

I find that the writing especially in video game roles very emotionally charged and fascinating.The creators  take you in so many different directions depending on what the player chooses- So  you have to record a huge variety of  storylines in the studio. Video games are extraordinarily sophisticated now so I also love the depth of the material. Love that you’re have to turn on a dime when you record video games.At one point you could be mourning the death of your brother and then next line you are a wench in old England serving beer in a pub. I find that my stage background really helps to get to the emotion very quickly in a video game and also the language in some video games is very Shakespearean especially if you’re doing a fantasy type read, so all my training in stage work really comes in handy for that type of language and name pronunciation .

I also love the challenge of diving in because the material is so secretive, Sometimes you don’t get the material till you walk into the studio so you have to be a very quick reader- a fast cold reader. Love that too. Even though I am using my voice, the physicality in the booth in front of the microphone is very evident. If you watched my recording, you would sometimes thing you are watching a fight scene or a jousting match. I am actually miming swing a broadsword, or waving my arms gracefully if I am playing a majestic character or hunched over if I am playing a Charr in Guild Wars 2 , for example, my movement training also comes in handy to give a full rounded performance which comes out in the voice.

The only thing that I miss when I do voiceovers is relating to the other actor I still love that human contact. But I have to use my imagination and imagine what the other actor might do and give a few versions so they have that to choose from when the other actor in another studio records his or her section. It’s a very unique process!

I love what genre I am doing when I do it! But voice over is in the top two! And like the world of sci fi ( which is another one of my favorite type of gigs), the fans are the most passionate and devoted!

Over the last year or so, we have spoken with about a dozen of your fellow VO actors from our beloved video game, Fallout 4. You of course did the vocals for a couple of the top Institute cohorts that play a major role in the third act of the game. With that, I am curious to know what your experience has been like being a part of this franchise with such die hard and loyal fans? And have you managed to play or see your characters be utilized within the game?

Ha, first of all thank you for letting me know that I’m in the third act of the game! That’s the first I’ve heard of it. I am absolutely so grateful for the Fallout 4 fans. I really realized  how diehard they are when I was walking around San Diego Comic- Con in a Fallout T-shirt – I was stopped all the time. And when they found out about my Institute characters they started quoting lines from the game that I didn’t even remember recording! Now that’s loyalty! The impact of the Fallout 4 game is just so rewarding. It is certainly a special club to have voiced this game. One fascinating tidbit , in one scene my two scientists characters are talking to each other. The director Chris Faella and myself found that amusing and challenging. Because they weren’t drastically different- just had different backgrounds.  We decided to make one more cynical and older and the other one a bit greener to differentiate. Love that collaborative effort!  Here is a quiet confession – I have never played a video game in my life! Ssh! I think if I started I would never stop. I will leave that to the amazing fans! Shhh! Shh! What happens in this interview, stays in this interview!

LOL!

Without trying to place the burden directly on your proverbial shoulders, I feel compelled to ask about the current climate and conditions for women in the world of film and television, both in front of and behind the camera. Appearances might seem like there have been strides towards change, but there is still such a small percentage of women working behind the camera, and still seem to be so few roles for strong female characters on camera. With that being said, in your own personal opinion and experience, what needs to change, like instantly? What are some aspects that maybe the average movie-goer or show viewer may not know about?

This is a very profound question, as you know and I’m not sure what the outcome of all of this will be but I do know that it is important to talk this out. I feel that strides have been made because more and more women and men are feeling more comfortable coming forward and sharing their experiences if things aren’t out in the light then we don’t know about them. With the high profile cases, this is helping people  express what has happened to them. That said we do have a long way to go and I think there are more stories to tell. When this started to come out, I started to think about some of my own experiences dealing with abusive artistic directors, photographers, producers throughout my career and I remember when I started in the theater having a director who was very “hands-on”. At the time, he wasn’t some huge powerful Hollywood type, but he could hire me for lots of other shows and he was powerful for me at my young age. And I just let him do what he did when he directed. I just thought that that was the norm. He was touchy-feely with all the actresses. It was uncomfortable but I giggled a lot and made jokes because I didn’t know how to handle it. I think at an early age both boys and girls should be taught how to deal with this kind of situation.  Meaning it is ok to say NO. Sadly sometimes it gets to the point where it is so violent and abusive ,even an adult would not be able to handle it. I really hope that we can continue to talk about it and people do not get cynical as new cases are revealed. We have a long way to go in hiring female talent on camera that are not just the girlfriend with the short shorts, or the hooker with a heart of gold. I think about my early career on camera when I played a lot of “sexy” parts. I am hoping that writers  will write more than just about our private parts. Fully realized characters that have more to say and do then  be the object!

As far as behind the camera and in video games, I have been fortunate to work with a few female directors who are all working now but we do have a long way to go in hiring more directors, writers, gaffers, sound people etc.  And I don’t necessarily believe that we have to just have females working with females. The wonderful male population can just as easily hire women crew!  And write fully realized female characters.

We have been taught from in early age as women to be subservient , not aggressive and not dominant. And an interesting thing would be one day just to say what a great part for woman. Not a strong woman not a powerful woman just a woman that that would encompass everything. Minus that adjective.

I think the average movie or theater goer, has no clue that this is happening. Remember they see the finished product and don’t get to peel back the curtain and see what is really going on. But with the press lately, the cinema or theater goer is learning more, as well.

I am not sure this will ever be a hundred percent solved in any business but we must continue to talk about it. Parents should keep on talking to both their kids and educate from a young age. We have made some baby steps lately…. But lots more to talk about for sure!  And to teach the next generation……..

Respect for all human beings! What a concept, huh!?

g_-_leg-1.jpg”> Peter Scolari is Robert in the comedy Boeing Boeing where he plays a non suspecting visitor of his friend Bernard (Michael Lamport) Paris apartment.
Ellen Dubin is Gloria who is one of three stewardess “finacees” Bernard surprises Peter with a hot blooded kiss.

[/caption]What does the future hold for you? Anything you would like to plug to our readers?

Staying close to family right now.  Love spending time with my family. My number one priority.

I am working on a video game in Toronto which of course I cannot say anything about and I am also the voice  on a wonderful project as a continuing character in a major television project out of Los Angeles .It is a great role that again signed a major NDA for.  Can’t wait to share this one .  And hopefully will be doing a few indie films in the fall. Stay tuned!

I also hope to be at San Diego Comic Con this year. I would love to see your readers come out and say hi. For future updates because life is so uncertain right now, it’s best to check  ellendubin.com or my fan Facebook page- https://www.facebook.com/EllenDubinActor/ or @EllenDubinActor twitter page

What was the last thing that made you smile?

This question!! Actually, all of your questions. A huge piece of carrot cake! And seeing my mom smile!

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About rontrembathiii
write. write. write.

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