While screen actors can dress a certain way or don make-up and prosthetics to fit a role they want to audition for, voice actors have only their voices to rely on. It’s an uber-competitive field often in which finding success as an American female voice over actor means learning to become a swiss army knife of accents and characters. They need to display mastery over some, if not most, of the significant American accents while being able to mimic prominent American female actors.
Female voice over artists not only have considerably fewer acting jobs available to them depending on the genre. The ratios of males to females stretch from 5 to 1 for videogames and 2 out of 3 for commercials. However, they need to fight all that much harder for the roles they do get. Check out any voice acting class, and you’ll see the female voice artists in class outnumber the males at least 4 to 1.
Having been a prolific artist in the voice over industry for over three decades, I can absolutely say that it’s a daunting field to break into. I’ve picked up on some of the nuances faced by American female voice-over artists throughout my career and compiled this quick guide that I use when coaching other voices over actors.
When you think accents and voice acting, your mind probably goes straight to posh British accents out of Downton Abbey and Bridgerton, or maybe the lyrical and hesitating rhythms of English spoken as a second language. But have you ever considered the sheer vastness of U.S. accents alone?
More than 30 different dialects are spoken across the United States, with at least five significant accents spanning from coast to coast – and that’s not even accounting for small-town colloquialisms or big city slang. To study the American accent, start small and familiarize yourself with the American accent archetypes; listen to podcasts or radio shows from the different regions and take notes on how each area varies.
How do people speak across the East Coast? Pay attention to how the vowels sound and try to emulate them phonetically. Note them and make yourself a cheat sheet. Then pick one and practice it until you feel comfortable with your East Coast accent.
Then move on to the other major regions across the U.S. and do the same thing. I love dialect coaches talking about how geography influences our mouths. We reflect the vast spaces and stretch the corners of our mouths more than someone in the South East. Research how people speak across Texas and the West Coast. Move to the region until you feel secure with each distinct pronunciation and practice them until they become second nature.
Once you’ve done that, you can work on your character archetypes.
American Female Voice Over Archetypes
When casting directors set up auditions for voice actors, they often look to the prominent American actors for references. These actors are successful for a reason. As a voice actor, I aim to emulate a few of them.
As an award-winning female voice over artist and coach, I’ve developed a shortlist of some of the more common prominent female actors you may be asked to sound like in a typical casting spec.
- Kristin Bell: Upper Midwest accent, relaxed and energetic.
- Reese Witherspoon: Southwest accent, sweet and warm.
- Alison Janney: New England accent, composed and confident
- Rashida Jones: West Coast accent, whimsical and relaxed
- Viola Davis – Southeast accent, sincere and articulate
- Meryl Streep: East Coast accent, solid and refined
- Christine Baranski: East Coast accent, delightful and velvety
- Sigourney Weaver: New York accent, authoritative and polished
- Jennifer Lawrence: Southcentral accent, fun and impactful
- Emma Stone: Southwest accent, determined and secure
Preemptively study this list as more than just a collection of household names or female actors, but as archetypes and roles to be played in and of themselves. Familiarize yourself with their mannerisms and tones; get in touch with them as characters to be portrayed, and learn to mimic how they speak. You might just be asked to do precisely that at your next audition.
Coaching for American Female Voice Over Actors
Consider looking into a voice acting coach if you’re still having trouble with some of your American accents and actor archetypes. With the right coaching from a seasoned female voice actor, you not only get an outside opinion from someone who wants to see you succeed but can access the tips and experience that made them successful in the first place. A good coach will do more than help polish your accents or fine-tune the small details, and they’ll elevate your craft and supply you with invaluable insights.