Welcome to another interview in our “Who’s that Voice?” series, with Sara Mendes da Costa! With heaps of experience and a long list of extremely impressive credits, we decided to ask Sara the all important questions to find out what makes her such a success in the voiceover world.
How did you get started as a VO actor?
Well…back in the distant past, I ran a small B2B telemarketing company (from my house – nightmare!) People turning up all over the place encroaching in my life… it was very stressful! (I know, my idea and all that…and it had seemed like a good one at the time)
However, part of the time, I used to go out to various companies and get on the phones myself; making appointments for their people to go and sell or promote whatever they did. One day, at one such desk, having just put the phone down, one of my work friends stood up and frowned at me.
‘I know what you should do!’ she cried, stabbing the air with her finger in my general direction.
‘What? What?’ (anything but this…I thought, hopefully)
‘You should be a voiceover artist!’ she confirmed, seeming quite proud.
And she proceeded to explain.
‘Ooh’, I thought, ‘that sounds fun! I could do that!’
So, with little hesitation, I looked into it, found someone to help make a demo for me and booked a day’s training/demo-making session with him in his studio. I made THE WORST DEMO IN THE WORLD.
I still have a copy, as does one of my friends who occasionally plays it to me and we laugh – a lot! Although inside I’m crying a little. Honestly, how I ever got any work I do not know. I put my photo on the front of the cassette – that’s how long ago it was! (this was advice from said demo-maker – he said it would help get me work) (Not sure if that was a compliment or not!). I think it actually did help! (I was in my 20s and ‘not too shabby’ as I understand it. I’m far from my 20s now, so I think it’s OK to admit that). Needless to say, I made another demo and took COMPLETE CONTROL (and added another photo, just to be on the safe side) and the work started coming in rather more regularly.
What was your first gig?
Ha ha….it was an advert for my old physio practice in Hove. I had this physio guy for my lower back who flirted outrageously with me during the various clicks and manipulations. I’m sure he’d have been struck off had the board of physios (or whatever) found out. I digress…
Anyhow, he basically decided that I should voice their first ever radio ad. No pressure!
Off I went to a studio and did the ad. Not too badly, but not brilliantly either…but it was my first ad, and I did it, and I was very pleased…and I think they were too. But they could just have been being kind. I think it may even be included on my first demo cassette…ahh, maybe they were just being kind!
What other memorable gigs come to mind?
I remember doing a single ad for the Sunday Sport (THE SUNDAY SPORT!!!) Good grief Charlie Brown. I stood in this guy’s cold hallway in Tunbridge Wells, talking into the corner of an unpadded wall (which apparently gave a good sound…really?) and feeling like I’d been sent to the naughty step. I was asked to think and feel like a busty blonde 44DD babe, and make love to the microphone. (marvellous). I wasn’t blonde or boasting a massive bust, but I got into the zone ….and, it has to be said, made a pretty atrocious ad! That popped into my mind. I haven’t thought about that in years!
I was also (fanfare) Divine Saviour Jamyl Sarum; crowned Empress of holy Amarr!! …but admittedly it was purely on a well-known games universe ‘Eve Online’ A huge multiplayer online game …with a player count of 9.5 million!!! (I only found that out just now!) I basically ruled the whole of a massive empire! I got to address crowds of millions, shout and command and rule and basically be empressy (in my dressing gown) I could’ve got used to that! It was only in my last session (in a London studio for a change) I suddenly went:
‘why does it say: big explosion part way through my sentence?’
‘Oh, that’s when you die,’ the director replied. Nice.
Mind you, I’d already been reborn as a clone… it was time. Oh…yeah…and there was this other kinda well-known gig… the Voice of the Speaking Clock thingumajig. Did that for 10 years. Changed my life. That was pretty cool 😉
What do you love about your job?
In terms of the voicing part of my job? FREEDOM! I love to create. I love to have projects on the go, all the time, where I’m making something, doing something up, painting, renovating whatever. That’s seriously a big part of who I am. And being a voiceover artist allows me to do that. Don’t get me wrong, I really do enjoy voicing, particularly when I get to be involved through the various stages of the process, and add some creativity, but I do especially love what it allows me to do.
I used to just want to be a voiceover artist…actually, strike that, I wanted to be a voice artist and a novelist; in fact voicing was what I did to give me the freedom of time and money to write my first novel (for first, read – well, the only one published – at this point, anyway).
I was more driven back then. I was driven to find clients and pick up the phone etc. Go off to networking events. Schmooze a bit 😉 Nowadays, I still really enjoy voicing and I’m so very thankful for it…particularly when I can be creative with my voice…but I really love the fact that it affords me time to be myself. To live in the way I want to live. To do the things I want to do (on a good month, anyway…they aren’t all good!)…simply put, to be me. So, I’d happily include voicing in my repertoire for as long as my voice has something to offer someone. It really is a great job/career.
What are you up to presently?
Presently, I’m working in the messiest studio ever! My booth is the tidiest place in it. Outside it though, is a floor and surfaces full of paint, art stuff. glue…dried flowers, leaves, chains (don’t ask)…more glue…and a whole host of exciting and semi-completed creative projects!
I will reiterate, for any clients or prospective clients reading this: my booth is calm and serene and ready for action…and whilst my art studio side is a messy work in progress, my voicing space is ready to step into and become who or whatever at any time! (terms and conditions apply). Basically, I’m working within a mixture of voicing and crafty creativity.
Voicing-wise, I do general bits and pieces most days and can never quite remember what I’ve done from one day to the next! However,I’ve been doing some lovely documentary work with a couple of space agencies and also I’m the voice for Ambassador Cruise line so there have been some fabulous ads and online films to do for them.
Recently, in the spirit of being more creative with my voice, I’ve started doing some castings for games via my lovely agent. I’d forgotten how much I love to do character voices. Having stayed in the warm corporate & commercial niche for years (which is still ace)…I’m really enjoying having a good old play with my voice and being my own director.
I’m also in the early-ish stages of building another little company where I make little personalised ornamental books and things. I won’t go into it in too much detail, early days and all that, but it’s one of the most enjoyable, enlightening, creative and beautiful projects I’ve ever worked on. Lots and lots of creative thinking and planning and then creating in miniature. Just adorable.
Any idols/mentors? What are some of the biggest lessons you may have learned from them?
I must admit, I’m not really an idol kinda gal. Well, not since David Cassidy when I was 6…oh and maybe David Soul (Hutch) when I was 11! (I was even a member of the Starsky & Hutch fan club…I wonder if it’s still going?). There are so many great talents out there…but I do tend to admire traits that people have. I particularly admire people who might have out of the ordinary ideas that don’t fit in with ‘the norm’ and are willing to get out and voice their truth. Truth is so important to me. Authenticity is key… and I like people who are a bit off the wall.
Also, people who stand up for what they believe, even though they may meet opposition. To break the mould. There are so many brave people around today who want to help humanity, to speak their truth and to stand strong in their beliefs. As I say, truth and authenticity (and love and kindness) are right up there for me.
If you weren’t doing voiceover, what else do you think you’d be doing for a career?
More creative stuff! More renovations. More design of many kinds. I love to design and find it hard to look at anything without trying to design or redesign it in my mind. If I meet people, or simply watch them walk by in the street – I’m doing their colours in my head. I’m cutting their hair and shaping their clothes. I see a blank wall, and I want to paint a picture on it. I see small rooms in a house, I want to knock them through. I see a colour I love and I’ve suddenly mentally redecorated a room in my house with a colour scheme that includes it. You get the gist.
I remember when I was more heavily in my writing phase and I was watching someone in the street and considering the colour she was wearing and playing around with different looks etc. The friend I was with observed me watching, and asked: ‘are you writing a story about her in your head?’…and I replied, ‘actually, I’m designing her wardrobe.’; I think that was a clue.
I have designed and sketched out a range of coats and I’d adore to see those made… but as I’m not a coat-maker, and don’t get me started on sewing machines (trying to thread a sewing-machine needle usually leads me to wanting to throw said sewing machine out the window) I’m not sure when that will come to fruition. I need to find someone who’ll bring the designs to life and if that happens, who knows, I may market them. Either that, or I’ll end up with a large collection of fantastical looking coats I can strut around town in…or, more likely, my house. Hey, there are worse things…
Has technology/home studios changed the way you work?
Not massively. Whilst I’ve done a good amount of travelling to studios, most of my work has always been from home. I set up in the room I’m still in now and made sure I could always work from home, pretty much from the start. Sure, the acoustics are better now, and things are a little more up to spec – but the concept is still the same.
A few years back I renovated an old BBC booth. Originally black and rusty, now royal blue with a Union Jack/Flag painted on the door for a funky 60s vibe…(rather like one of those big Smeg fridges…only a lot warmer!). So it’s all rather more professional now, but all in all, I’ve been a homebird since the beginning, which I love.
Can you offer 3 helpful tips for newbies trying to make it in the voice-over industry?
Practice/play with your voice – a lot, be your own director, be authentic.Pay attention to what you hear/see and get a feeling for what you’d be great at …and what you’d love. Then spend time with a mic and recording equipment and literally play around with a script, over and over…and over.
Transcribe scripts from TV and radio if you don’t have any already and read and re-read and play. Become your own director. Listen back over and over and re-record until it feels right. If it doesn’t sound/feel right to you, it likely won’t to others either.
Sit with the script and really imagine how the audience will hear you, how they will feel. How do you want them to feel? Get into the emotions of those feelings and then do your reads.
What’s the most authentic place you can come from? What would any characters you’re playing be thinking, feeling?
Authenticity is key.. Whatever you’re voicing, make it real whether you’re voicing a straight script or a character. Get to that place of believing what you’re reading. Feel what you’re reading and come from an authentic place…even if it’s a crazy character. Crazy characters are still coming from a place, they are still thinking and feeling, so get to that place. Think about what you want to achieve and what you want your audience to hear, to feel, to think…to take away from what you’ve voiced…then practice until you feel that very same set of emotions when you listen back to what you’ve recorded.
You’ll find the sweet spot. The purple patch. You’ll hear it. You’ll literally feel it…that’s when voicing magic is occurring.
And now…onto the more serious questions!
If you had a choice between two superpowers, being invisible or flying, which would you choose, and why?
Definitely flying. Although both would be awesome…mind you, if I were invisible I’d fret that it may be permanent! Or even the opposite, I’d be sneaking around and I’d suddenly become visible! Which is worse? Not sure. So, flying it is. Mind you, if I were up at 20,000 feet, and flying stopped being permanent, that could also be pretty tricky!
OK, why flying? Well, in work and life, freedom is key for me, and the idea of travelling the globe and going where I wanted whenever I wanted, would be one of the most incredible gifts I can think of. I mean…imagine that freedom! I’d need to include a super snuggly flying suit with lots of pockets for my luggage (hair styling and makeup would be essential for post-flying-helmet-hair) and maybe some kind of a person-carrier (like a baby carrier) so I could take a special friend.
If you got to choose a song that would play every time you entered a room, what song would you pick?
Wow, no idea! But,‘We are the Champions’ just popped into my head. I think that would be great, actually. Everyone knows it, most love it and it’s really anthemic and inspiring. So, whilst it wouldn’t necessarily be my theme tune per se, it would encourage everyone in the room to sing and feel good about themselves and the vibe in the room would be great!…and that sounds like a good thing.
Actually ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ would be equally as good…then we could all play air guitar too!
Mind you, considering what I’ve said before….maybe ‘Freedom’ by George Michael would be rather apt!
And finally….If you were a brand, what would your slogan be?
Goodness…I’m sure there could be many! I’d need rolling marketing campaigns for different moods and times of the year, different brand elements! Ha ha.
I’ll try to narrow things down, though. It would have to be something really positive and uplifting…inspiring. I’m a great believer in the power each of us has to change the world simply by being positive, happy, kind etc…like the ripples of a pebble thrown into a lake, spreading out and affecting the whole lake.
So, ‘smile, and change the world’ would be good,‘paint your life like a work of art’ that would certainly work…but perhaps I’ll settle on.
‘Live your best life….no-one else will.’