There are few video games as dynamic and over-the-top as Bayonetta, and Bayonetta 2 seems ready to kick things up another notch. A large part of that, no doubt, comes from the boisterous talent in the characters’ voices. Hellena Taylor, the actor behind the Umbran Witch herself, certainly injects power and humor into the game with unforgettable one-liners and formidable comebacks. Her voice adds depth—and danger—to one of gaming’s most independent women.
We were thrilled when Hellena Taylor took the time out of her busy schedule to answer some of our questions about her career in voice acting and her contributions to the Bayonetta series. Read on for the full interview!
Nintendo News: To start, can you tell Nintendo News readers briefly who you are and what you do?
Hellena Taylor: Hi, I’m Hellena Taylor and I am an actor. I am the voice of Bayonetta.
NN: How did you get into acting and voice-overs? What do you enjoy about it?
HT: I fell in love with acting when I was 13 and was in my first show at school. I had a part in the musical South Pacific. From then on I never really thought of doing anything else. I was extremely lucky to get into LAMDA (London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art). I loved it there, it was an amazing three years and I am eternally indebted to them for the training. We had a voice teacher called Barbara Berkery. She was tough on us, but I loved her. I owe her my career in voice over. We did voice class every day five days a week for three years. The voice is a muscle and it must be trained rather like an athlete needs to train their body. I feel this is why I can do lots of things with my voice. I love the fact that I can explore other worlds and being situations unlike my own.
NN: What are some roles you’ve taken over the years?
HT: I was in the London production of The Sisters Rosensweig at the Old Vic. I played Greta in Whit Stillman’s film Barcelona. I have done many voice overs.
NN: Big question here: Can you pick just one role you’ve done that’s your favorite?
HT: No. To pick one is impossible. I really enjoy creating of any kind. Anything that is well-written is a joy to do.
NN: You have experience in practically all forms of acting. What kind of roles do you like best? Voice-overs? Video games? Theater? Film?
HT: Theatre, without doubt theatre. I like the time spent together working as a team and discovering things in rehearsal. Then in performance getting to feel the energy of the audience every night. It’s like a co-creation, more so than any other medium.
NN: Switching gears now. Can you tell us how you landed the role of everyone’s favorite Umbra Witch? What was the audition like?
HT: The audition was like every single other voice audition. One thing I do before every audition is a full LAMDA vocal warm up in the car. The audition was at DPN’s offices (they are my wonderful voice agents in the States). I was given some lines to read and a five-line description of the character and a black and white line drawing of her. I had the usual five minutes to prepare it before I went into the room to record the audition. You never have much information to go on and you don’t really know what they are looking for. It’s shooting in the dark really. So I always make bold choices. I give them three contrasting reads in terms of tone and inflection, so they can hear that I can be flexible. Then once it was recorded, it was sent to Japan. Meanwhile, I went out of the room and went about my day. I had no idea that Bayonetta would be such a part of my future at that point. I just tried to create something believable in the room. I’m not sure why they chose me, you’d have to ask Hideki, but I’m jolly glad they did.
NN: What decisions about Bayonetta’s voice did you make going into the role?
HT: I knew that I had to pitch her an octave lower than my natural speaking voice. I used the consonants and plosives in the words like they were a weapon to give her more power.
NN: How much of Bayonetta’s personality is of your own creation?
HT: All of it voice wise. But the creators are responsible for creating her and I just worked with that. I was influenced by the brief five-line description of her and the line drawing in black and white. The fabulous Kris Zimmerman-Salter helped me a lot in the recording, as they wouldn’t give me any plot points at all. I had no idea if I was fighting demons, dragons or flying giraffes. I just imagined the biggest thing I could envisage in my mind to up the stakes for her. Kris also gave me permission to be really sassy with her.
NN: As someone who perhaps knows her best, can you describe Bayonetta’s character for us? What would you say her biggest traits are, and what else is important to know about the witch that many might not realize?
HT: She is the women all women would love to be and no woman is. Formidable enemy, great and loyal friend. Relaxed witty, admired, sexy, she outwits everyone, except Jeanne and Cereza, who she loves. She has this void inside her that drives her on and spurs her righteousness. This comes out of not knowing about her past.
NN: Bayonetta’s lines are really powerful, dominating, empowering, and—if I may say so—quite over-the-top in a really spectacular way. Did you practice or use several takes to deliver these lines? What helps you while you record?
HT: I had no practice whatsoever. They do not release the script to actors beforehand as they are afraid of plot leaks. This is difficult for an actor who likes to rehearse and also annoying as I would never ever work against the creators and the people who employed me by giving anything away. So I had 30 seconds to read the line and then do three takes. I like to be a one take wonder, but they always record three for safety, so you just try to vary it a bit to give the director something to work with. I have to envisage what I am saying and who I am saying it to. The hardest things were the fight grunts. Apparently men love to do them and women find it harder. Plus it blows your voice out if you are not careful. I move around a lot in the booth as it sounds more alive. I did a lot of her movements while saying the lines and the sedate Japanese creators must have found this amusing to see me flail around in there like a mad person with a make-believe gun. I wore high heals in the booth this time to give her more of a confident swagger. In the anime Bloody Fate I recorded her barefoot, I’m not sure why, it just felt right. I never sit down to record, that depresses the diaphragm and gives the voice a tired quality. Other than that I keep my voice lubricated with room temp water or herb tea, and do full LAMDA voice and movement warm up beforehand.
NN: How has working on Bayonetta 2 differed from voicing the character the first time around? How has the character changed, and how did production differ this time?
HT: Well for a start the haircut. It was nice to know who she is this time. We recorded in West LA and all the creators came over from Japan. The only thing that I had to ensure was that she was pitched correctly, as it had been some time since the first one. So we went back over some of her lines from the first one and matched pitch. It was a really fun record.
NN: Bayonetta even has her own anime film, Bayonetta: Bloody Fate, in which you reprise your role in the English dub. How has voicing Bayonetta for film differed from your work in the video games?
HT: We were privileged to record the anime in the room that was once Alfred Hitchcock’s private screening room at Shepperton Studios. Chills! Sometimes I had to match her lip flap to the screen, so that was different. I had to ensure that I kept up her intensity, while matching it and still make sure it sounded alive. I had worked with the director Johnathan Klein before on Read or Die the TV and some other projects. It was lovely to work with him again.
NN: You’ve already returned to this character a few times now. Are you interested in continuing as her voice if needed? Do you have hopes for a Bayonetta 3?
HT: Absolutely. Although, having said that I have voice-matched other actors for games, and I wonder if they minded me taking over their creation. I think I would be peeved if I was not asked. I really hope there will be a third one and so does everyone at PlatinumGames in Japan.
NN: Okay, we’re at the “full moon” of our interview now, so to speak, so I’m going to ask you some fun questions. After all the work you’ve done for Bayonetta, do you have one line that you just loved performing over all the others?
HT: “If there’s anything I hate in this world, it’s cockroaches and crying babies! … Though, I suppose a crying baby cockroach would be TRULY terrible.”
“Let’s dance boys!” was fun too.
NN: Humor me with this one. What bewitching and hellish power of Bayonetta’s do you wish you had in real life?
HT: The ability to come up with exactly the right witty riposte at the perfect time. She’s rather like Bond with her one-liners.
NN: What about Bayonetta makes her a great role to voice? What about being a tall, sexy and badass witch made your job fun?
HT: I like the fact that she is not like me. That is a nice fantasy for me to step into. You really have to be present when recording. She is in situations of extreme peril most of the time. So it forces you to be in the moment in a way that for most of life you are not.
Funnily enough I was at Shepperton Studios and in the commissary for lunch every day while recording the anime. We met the stunt team working on Avengers 2. Yann, a member of the stunt team, was dressed up as one of the superhero characters encased in lurid-coloured latex from head to toe. He asked me about what I was recording and I told him, “It’s so unlike me, I voice over a kick ass witch with thighs up to her ears who wears black leather, and I don’t have a stitch of black leather in my wardrobe.” He said in a Czech accent, without missing a beat, “Well, it’s not too late to start!”
NN: Do you play the games after they are released? How does the Bayonetta in the final product differ from the version you have in your head?
HT: No, I do not. It would be weird listening to yourself. It’s so much better than I had pictured in my head with Mari’s beautiful artwork.
NN: I saw on your website that you play trumpet. As a trumpet player myself, I have to ask: pinky on top of the ring or in the ring?
HT: I did mention that was only to grade three at school. So to be frank when I try playing now I sound like a farting wildebeest. Let’s put it this way: Alison Balsom is not going to be out of a job any time soon. Pinky in the ring, you?
NN: Okay, “Serious Mode” now. What are some hobbies that occupy you when you aren’t giving a voice to shapeshifting, hell-bound witches?
HT: I love animals and nature and the countryside. I’m thinking of getting a dog soon. I may also adopt a very friendly sheep called Mr Issac Pevensey—long story involving a seminarian friend of mine and an impromptu find in a muddy field. I just need to find a place for him to live out his days after being rescued from the pot. I am a method bell ringer, something that is particular to Britain and only a few towers in the rest of the world. The bells weigh the same as a small car. It’s all about timing, balance and precision. It’s difficult to master but it’s fun, geeky and strangely addictive. I love golf and was lucky enough to go to Gleneagles recently for the Ryder Cup. Mixed emotions as I supported Team USA as I have a friend on the team, so it was a bit depressing on Sunday. I also like to read and I like the theatre, cooking and gardening and being with friends.
NN: What’s next for you? Do you have your next role already lined up?
HT: I do not have a role lined up, as I live in England now and I can’t even get a meeting with a London voice agent. It has been frustrating. I need a good London agent, then I can audition for things again. Any help on this would be good. Hook me up with a good voice agent will you someone!
So I have done other things with my time instead. I’m very excited about this, I have set up my own production company. I have offices on a wonderful film lot and I am developing three movies. One is a western love story. The second is a period drama based on a real-life nobleman that I am writing the screenplay for. And the other is a heist movie that I am in the process of optioning.
In the near future I am going to record an audiobook of Wind in the Willows, probably in the months up to Christmas. I love the book and that is a voice project that I am doing on my own. I’ll have it on my website when it is finished.
I would also like to learn Japanese. It would be nice to speak to Bayonetta’s creators in their own language. I also help the team from Tokyo Disney twice a year when they are in London, so I should really carve out some time to do this.
I’d love to travel and spend some more time in the States this coming year. I lived there for a long time and I miss my friends over there. I would also like to go to Brazil and India and Hawaii and explore, as I have never been and have invitations to two of them.
NN: Anything else you want to say to the Nintendo fans of the world?
HT: Yes. Thanks for listening. I hope you enjoy the new adventures of Bayonetta. St Teresa of Avila said, “Do whatever most kindles love in you.” So I wish you all the best in whatever you do in the world.
A big thank you to Hellena Taylor from Nintendo News for taking the time to respond with such colorful answers. Oh, and for the record, Hellena: pinky on the ring, like it should be.
Bayonetta 2 and the Wii U re-release of the original Bayonetta will arrive in North American and European retailers and in the Nintendo eShop on Friday, October 24. The game has already launched in Japan.