Patricia Summersett is a veteran actress and performer who has voice acted for a variety of games, most recently reprising her role as the eponymous Princess Zelda in The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom. Gamers might also recognize her as the voice of Ash, one of Rainbow Six: Siege's Operators, along with a number of characters throughout Ubisoft's Assassin's Creed series.
Game Rant recently interviewed Patricia Summersett to talk about her experience portraying one of the most recognizable names in gaming history, her thoughts on Link and Zelda's relationship, and other aspects of voice acting both in Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom and in the industry as a whole. The interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Q: Zelda has been a character for around 37 years. How did you approach a role with such a long legacy? Did you look to older games for inspiration?
Summersett: Yes, that’s a fascinating question, how does one approach a character who’s had previous iterations, but not necessarily an official voice in a game?
Whenever I approach a character, I try for a swath of research. One of the things that I did look to when I was researching this character – after I found out what it was, of course, because when I was auditioning for it, I didn't know what character I was auditioning for – but once I discovered what it was, I went back into the original, Twilight Princess, and Ocarina of Time.
I watched gameplay online to get a sense of what the animation looked like and also bought a Hyrule Historia. Those were sort of my foundations from the game’s franchise. But from there, you simply have to go with the script that's in front of you. You cannot play the past.
Q: Speaking of the script, how much creative freedom were you given in your role? Were you given very specific instructions, or did you get a chance to make the character your own?
Summersett: I think it's a combo of both. When you're cast, you’re cast because there's something about what you are offering that already suits the character. But I mean, the writing and the group that works on this sort of project is very specific about what they're looking for. My job as an actor is to come in and essentially help them realize that specific vision as best I can.
So yeah, there's always creative freedom when breathing life into something. But it's also a dub, which has technical aspects to it. And, again, a very tight script, and one that's very detailed and very massaged by a lot of people.
Q: What do you think are the characteristics that define Zelda in terms of voice? What do you think is important for her to “sound like Zelda”?
Summersett: I think where she sits in my range and my body is something higher both in energy and in register than my normal voice and demeanor. There’s a light melodic feeling and the “brainy” and excited energy of her, through which she expresses both enthusiasm and a lot of care. She has a very big heart.
I think I hit on some of her essence in those places. It's funny to think of it from a vocal perspective though, because while there are vocal decisions made technically, it’s as much about what’s driving her, what she is pursuing and reacting to. So it’s active, it's character-driven, as much as technical.
Q: Were there any lines or emotions you felt were particularly challenging to deliver or express?
Summersett: Not really, I mean, there's always a challenge to doing a new character and discovering the gamut of emotions that exist within their world and how they would express them. I think my knowledge of that inevitably evolves as the games have evolved because I've had more time with the character, which is a very natural progression. I guess in my own life and my own work, I don't shy away from complexity or nuance or even dark material. So I wouldn't say that her being more emotional would be harder for me, it's just a matter of finding why it needs to be there, and justifying that part of it as an actor.
Q: How does it feel to know you’re responsible for the voice of Zelda, one of the most recognizable names in video game history?
Summersett: I would first say that the voice of Zelda and the way she's represented is very much a group effort, so it is my voice mixed with the vision of a lot of people on a creative team — more than one creative team. So I share in that enthusiasm and desire to get it right and do rely on the collective support and approval!
But, sure, I do feel pressure sometimes, and I want to represent her as well as I can in the real world, because she does tend to be a symbol for people in certain rooms. But it is a character and it's not me. I now spend more time not distancing myself entirely, but just taking it all with a grain of salt. There's only so much that I can do and be in one lifetime, and I ultimately represent a lot of different characters from a lot of different franchises.
Q: Since you perform opposite of Link, who’s a silent protagonist, has that presented any unique challenges as opposed to characters who talk back?
Summersett: He is very quiet, but very expressive nonetheless! So often in video games – motion capture contains some exceptions – but so often you are responding to a character directly from imagination or a script. You're either reading lines from another person as a cue, or going completely cold off of those lines, and giving several options for their editing purposes.
I don't find it more challenging than some of the other roles I've played. What can be more tricky, actually, is if you're playing opposite somebody who's giving you strange signals, or not what you expect would be a realistic or intuitive reaction. I think every actor has dealt with that side of it… and hopefully I haven’t been that too often for other actors!
Q: Could you talk about how that tricky moment played out?
Summersett: There are many moments like that in one’s career as an actor. Especially if you do stage or perhaps animation, anything involving improv etc. You have the material in front of you, you have cues, it carries a certain rhythm and intention, but suddenly you’re not getting from a co-star what you expect. Sometimes it’s fun, sometimes it’s deadly.
Hopefully, as a professional actor, you can take a moment and run with it. Adapt. Perhaps that’s one of the most important parts of the job. Transitions.
Q: Link and Zelda have a long history together, sometimes seemingly romantic, sometimes familial. As a whole, how do you look at their relationship?
Summersett: I'm not sure if you just saw that huge thing that blew up on Twitter today about me having to qualify a statement that somebody misquoted, and then it made a bunch of headlines about me saying something that I completely did not imply in the article?
So let me answer this very carefully. Because that's precisely what it was about. It's left ambiguous. I think people can put onto that incredibly dynamic relationship the interpretation of their choosing, and everybody comes to this series for different reasons. I personally love that there's a mystery in it. It keeps it all very active.
That’s an interesting dynamic for characters. Usually, players are explicitly told the nature of a relationship. It’s nice that this is up to the players to decide for themselves.
Summersett: I completely agree. It’s really nice.
Q: What’s your process like for stepping into a voice role? Do you immerse yourself in the character, or do you have any interesting practice techniques you like to employ?
Summersett: It very much depends on the nature of the voice role, because some voice roles have to be more physical, some require a much larger character arc, and others might be one-offs where you're doing three characters at a time in a booth.
One thing I do always come back to, and I think is super important, is that it is about acting first. Voice acting is acting, and my background is, of course, theater. I also do live-action and a broad variety of other kinds of work. I write, I do music, and I'm always curious about what propels a character.
In the booth, sometimes you're channeling the story more through your voice, and you have to resonate a certain way, sometimes you have to change your voice in an extreme manner. It's really important to do physical warm-ups if it requires vocally stressful work or fine nuanced sound, or an accent. Also, I bought a steamer recently, for mornings and evenings. It’s one of the few things that can directly hydrate vocal cords.
But other than that, I pretty much physically warm up for any kind of acting work that I do. I also do imagination warmups.
Q: What are your “imagination warm-ups” like? Do you picture certain scenarios in your head?
Summersett: Yes, that's one of the kinds of imagination warm-ups I do. Walking around half in your world, half in a character’s world. I have been known to actually lock myself out of the house by forgetting keys while doing this! But other things we do: freeform thought, or moving around a space and just kind of acting on impulse, a bit like a child. Rolling around on the floor etc. It totally depends. Sometimes it’s simply to calm nerves as well.
It's just about finding a way to get primed before you get to the booth, whether that's drinking a large pot of coffee, taking a nap, going for a run, or doing something a little more what some people might consider artsy eccentric stuff — to shake off what the conventional world places on you physically and mentally.
Q: As you mentioned, you’ve voiced a wide range of roles from Assassin’s Creed to Far Cry Primal and Rainbow Six Siege. Do you have any characters that you particularly identified with or felt a strong relationship with?
Summersett: Not all are created equal, that's for sure, but I do definitely find things within each character that I relate to. I spent a lot of time with Ash from Rainbow Six Siege. That happened over a period of multiple years, so I've had time to explore and empathize with the character through multiple iterations. That said, we're nothing alike in real life! She is a tank, man.
A lot of people find that Zelda is very easy to empathize with and to love. Evil characters can be more tricky, but you still need to find their rationale through what they're doing and there's always empathy involved in that process.
Q: Previously you voiced Zelda in Breath of the Wild and Hyrule Warriors. Were there any differences in your approach to the role in Tears of the Kingdom, or was the goal to remain consistent with those depictions?
Summersett: There's always going to be a combination of remaining consistent and keeping the character grounded in the same impulses that they initially were born from, which was Breath of the Wild. They do all feel to me like expansions of the same character, for sure.
But of course, there's wonderful new scripted dialogue and new scenarios. It’s a combination of Breath of the Wild Zelda and surprising new territory.
Q: How do you feel about the reception to your role as Zelda? Do you keep an eye out for fan feedback, or do you tend to keep to yourself?
Summersett: The older I get, the more I keep to myself because going online is crazy. Things get magnified that are absolutely not how the majority of the public feel. I've had the wonderful benefit of going to Comic-Cons and stuff, and I meet so many people who are just absolutely thrilled with every aspect of the game and want to tell me all about it.
So yeah, I take all of that with a grain of salt now. I found it all harder in the beginning because I just wasn't used to getting so much attention for one role. But now I understand where it's coming from, and how the algorithms of the internet have come about, both in my favor and not in my favor in terms of opinions.
Most people love the game and I'm super thrilled to be a part of it. The people who want to reach out and say positive things to me will find me, and so I do get a lot of that whether or not I'm looking. It's pretty awesome.
Q: Do you look to other voice talent for inspiration? Are there any other actors or actresses you’re particularly fond of?
Summersett: Oh, so so many! Gosh, I wouldn't want to single people out and miss other ones. In terms of wild versatility, I do think instantly of Jennifer Hale, Laura Bailey, Kari Wahlgren, Cree Summer. Steve Blum, Roger Craig Smith, Eric Bauza, Dee Bradley Baker — oh boy, but It's so hard to answer that question because I’ll be looking at that and think, “Oh, gosh, I should have included all of these wonderful people!”
Including people who are less known but upcoming— my friend Ulka Simone Mohanty for example who may not have the same kind of public profile but is killin’ it right now. So much range.
I’m on a Pcap gig right now, working with an ensemble where I'm just like, “Wow, I need to up my game and be vigilant — to be super solid in this room of storytellers.”
Q: What’s something people might not know about voice acting that you find interesting?
Summersett: I feel like I stake my claim about this over and over again, but I feel like people who choose to know will learn it, and other people won't ever take the time. But again, that voice acting is acting, and I feel like it's so often removed from the visualization of what the work entails.
I say that because it’s also a point, a lesson that I've had to learn over and over again in my career. It's been nearly 20 years of acting, and I continuously have to go back to putting in the work to make informed dramatic decisions. It’s easy to get lazy. Humans are built for it.
Also, much is changing with AI. The definition of the job of voice acting and what's considered character creation is getting redefined. A lot of people are working very hard to create a new template to protect our work and the IPs we lend our craft to.
Q: Do you feel like AI is going to be problematic for voice actors in the future, or even currently?
Summersett: Yes. One thing's for sure: it's not going away. So it is a matter of finding ways to regulate and work with it, and keep it as human as possible. Keep those arguments as human as possible. It’s concerning, for sure.
Q: Do you have any advice for aspiring voice actors? What do you feel is important to know about the field?
Summersett: A few things. Voice acting is acting, so train as an actor and get that experience. There are wonderful resources out there. It's mind-boggling how many, that's the unfortunate thing. It is good to be guided in the right direction.
There is no one shot at this, it takes a lot of years to build, recraft, and do drafts of your career —and to build an intuition for what you consider to be good work. Joy in the process will get you further faster, and make the work more alive.
Most of the time it feels like a lot of failures, but don't be discouraged by that. It may not look exactly like what you thought it was going to, but you will get somewhere with it.
Work hard, but don't be too hard on yourself. I wish I could tell my younger self that now, it’s a waste of … generous energy.
And a couple of resources I like right now: A podcast called Morning VO with Carin Gilfry and Jamie Muffet, and a brand new book called The Art and Business of Acting for Video Games by Julia Bianco Shoeffling. I’ve been benefitting from these personally because they are super contemporary and practical.
Q: Do you have anything you’d like to share before we wrap up?
Summersett: I'm working on things, but they're all NDA.
But I just released an album last week with my band called Summersett, which was named long before any of this stuff blew up! We’re a Montreal-based indie folk band. And it's so funny, the musicianship element of my career is so tiny and glossed over by everything else, but it's one of the most fulfilling things that I do. Creating my own work.
Q: I’m guessing you do vocals for the band?
Summersett: I do, I co-write and do vocals. I don't play an instrument. My co-founder who's a pianist does the orchestration and we both work on lyrics, melody, and song structure, and then we pass it to a larger group in our band which is bass and drums and sort of our “spine.”
We have two other actor/singers (Eric Davis and Holly Gauthier-Frankel) who have both done a lot of video games and live-action work, and we all love harmonizing together along with violin and cello. We’re like a little Montreal “actor band.”
The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom is available on Nintendo Switch.