As a huge fan of the DC Universe and its many creations, who was also a child when shows like The Fairly Odd Parents and Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends were running, I’ve grown up hearing Tara Strong’s voice throughout my household. Whether I was watching shows like these or playing any of the Batman games (i.e. Arkham City), I was exposed to the greatness of Tara, and was instantly a fan. Her ability to juggle a myriad of voices seamlessly is wildly impressive, and her list of IMDb credits has amassed her an incredible following of devoted fans. To my childhood heart’s content, I was able to speak with the formidable Tara Strong. Given my DC-fan status, adoration of Harley Quinn, and Tara’s upcoming RICC appearance, many of my questions were focused around her experiences voicing Harley. For ease of reading and to protect me from utter embarrassment, I have omitted my slight fangirlish introduction and conclusion (you’re welcome).
Maddie Jarvis (Motif): You’ve talked in the past about how you had to make Timmy Turner your own after the passing of Mary Kay Bergman; how did you go about making Harley Quinn your own after taking the torch from Arleen Sorkin?
Tara Strong: They told me that they wanted something different, so I was really just listening to production – the producers, writers, director. They wanted something based on her initial creation of this character, but tweaked to video game-like format. They wanted it based on her but different; and I don’t know that they could even describe it, we just sort of played around a little bit until it fell into a pocket that everyone seemed pretty happy with. Any of those kinds of situations are a pretty collaborative process. Like, if I went in and said ‘I’m taking Harley here’ at the session, that may not have gone as well, but I was booked on that without really auditioning. Fairly Odd Parents was different because it was an audition, so I said ‘I’m doing it my way, I’m not copying her, it’s too sad for me. So if that doesn’t work for you, I get that.’ So it was a little bit of a different scenario.
MJ: Between all of the different DC Universe creations there are the extreme differences in tone and darkness; for example, the Arkham game trilogy is pretty dark compared to the bubbly vibes of some of the newer DC animated series. Do you have any differences in processes between voicing Harley Quinn for TV and for games like Arkham City and Arkham Knight because of this contrast in tone?
TS: Yeah, for sure. Any time you’re doing a show you’re gonna be told what the vibe is, what the world is, how it feels, and what’s going on. Then that’s why it’s not – you know, when people say ‘Oh I really wanna get into voiceover’ if they have a funny voice – because that’s not at all what it’s about. It’s about having acting chops, so once you hear ‘Oh, this is what’s happening in this game,’ or ‘This is what’s happening in this cartoon series,’ you could easily have just as dark a series or just as dark a film. It doesn’t necessarily matter whether it’s a game or a show, it just depends on the overall feeling and vibe and environment that your character’s going to be portrayed in, and then that is dictated by, once again, production. So, if I know I’m going into something and it’s DC Super Hero Girls and I know it’s geared towards a younger audience, it’s going to be obviously a lot more playful than a game where the Joker’s dying. So those are really like, proof of the point that you have to be an actor, you know? You can’t just be able to imitate a voice, and you have to be able to adapt whatever character you’re doing to whatever environment they’re in.
MJ: Harley definitely goes through a pretty drastic character development between the three video games – especially between Arkham City and Arkham Knight. Which Harley was most fun to voice?
TS: Uhhh, you know I’d probably say Arkham Knight was more fun only because with Arkham City I was still pretty worried people wouldn’t take to my version of her, because she was such a beloved character and her origin story is that of Arleen Sorkin no question — the character was based off of her. So those are some big shoes to fill, you know? So I think by the second game it may have been more fun because I had already felt some love from the fans, so I got to play around a little bit more as opposed to ‘Gosh I hope they like this.’
MJ: Now that we’re finally starting to see live-action versions of Harley Quinn, it’s pretty cool because we’ve really only had versions of her in animation. A lot of people think that the film representation hasn’t really done the original character of Harley justice. How do you think the portrayal of Harley Quinn has changed or remained the same with the entrance of the live-action version of her?
TS: Well, I think it’s challenging when you go from animated character to on-camera, in that everyone has their own idea of what that would look like in an on-camera world; sometimes that works, and sometimes it doesn’t. I think that Margot Robbie is a brilliant choice, because she is so gorgeous, is such a great actress, and physically certainly looks like a drawing of Harley Quinn. With that said, people have grown to love who they’re comfortable with. Do I think it would be dope if there was like suddenly a movie and Harley’s a mom and I got to play her on camera? Hell yes! That would be great! I think the fans would get a huge kick out of Harley mom. But, you know, I don’t know that you could ever really capture the magic of something that caught fire in an animated world in an on-camera version. Not to say that on-camera versions are bad, but they’re always going to be compared to either a brilliant comic or a super moving animated version of that character.
MJ: In your Vanity Fair interview you briefly mentioned that you see yourself mostly like Bubbles out of the people you’ve voiced. Who have you voiced that you would consider to be the most unlike you?
TS: Hmm, I’m not sure if that’s true – although I am a lot like Bubbles, because there’s so much of myself in so many of my characters. Like I can really relate to Raven and Harley as well. Those three I’d say are sort of the triad of Tara Strong, you know? I’m probably most not like Terrence from Foster’s Home because he’s just horrible all the time. I’m not someone that would ever hurt someone vindictively. If I accidentally hurt someone’s feelings by saying the wrong thing I’m incredibly apologetic. It’s not in my nature to hurt a human or an animal, even if they’re horrible. If they’re horrible to me I’ll set a boundary, but I’m not out to hurt another living being.
MJ: As I mentioned, I write for a magazine in Rhode Island, so we have Rhode Island ComicCon coming up that you’ll be coming to. Hypothetically, say you were coming to RICC as an attendee rather than a celebrity, who would you cosplay as if that was a thing you did?
TS: It is a thing that I do! And I have so much fun. I’ve done Harley, I’ve done Batgirl, I’ve done Ashi, I’ve done Twilight, I’ve done Raven a few times. I’d like to still do Rikku and Lollipop Chainsaw, Juliet Starling. Now that I have a hot boyfriend there’s a lot of fun couple cosplay that I’d like to do.
MJ: He could be a zombie for you!
TS: Yeah! I think we’re gonna do either Harley-Joker or Harley-Batman for Halloween together. When we went to our last few cons we cosplayed as Stitch and Angel – it’s a very easy cosplay, it’s just these comfy onesies. It was so much fun. I think it’s tremendously fun to cosplay, so I’m totally open to the challenge of doing all my characters and maybe making a calendar of that one day.
MJ: Do people usually recognize you with the cosplay, like through the costume and makeup and stuff?
TS: I definitely get recognized more out of cosplay because so many people are cosplaying – when I first cosplayed Harley, my very first cosplay was at San Diego ComicCon a few years ago, and this guy said, ‘Can I take your picture? Harley’s my favorite and you’re the 12th one I’ve seen today.’ And I said *Harley voice* ‘Okay puddin’! But am I your favorite?’ and he was like ‘I don’t know, I’ve seen a lot of good ones.’ Then he walked away! I was super excited for that dude to go home and, like, expand that iPhone picture. I really kind of love surprising people. But no, I get recognized more in my day-to-day life as Tara than as a cosplayer.
MJ: Do you have any other guests that you’re excited to bump into in your time at RICC? I know my mom is really excited about the Karate Kid / “Cobra Kai” reunion!
TS: Um no, because I’ve already seen those. They’re super nice by the way, your mom’s not going to be disappointed. I’m pretty sure Alicia Silverstone’s coming?? I’m excited for THAT one, because I like, love her. So I hope she like, notices I’m on the planet at some point, because…I wanna meet Alicia!
MJ: My final question is, do you have any super exciting upcoming projects that you are legally allowed to speak about? I know for most things while you’re filming you can’t really talk about it, but I’m wondering if you have anything you can talk about?
TS: Well I’m excited about more “Gabby’s Dollhouse” because that’s one of the cutest shows ever. We’re still doing “Titans,” I’m doing a new show for Nickelodeon that I don’t think has been announced yet so I can’t talk about that. Yeah a lot of stuff that is new are things I can’t talk about yet…perhaps a video game I can’t talk about yet. But all in due time.
MJ: That’s still exciting to hear! It means we have stuff to look out for on the horizon.
TS: For sure! More to come for sure.
Catch Tara Strong at RI Comic Con, Nov 4 – 6 at the RI Convention Center.