“And I thought I had a good poker face…”- Tali’Zorah
Since playing Mass Effect I, like many gamers, was a huge fan of Tali. Tali was an incredibly interesting character but not just because of her species need for their enviro-suits, no, but because of the performance behind the character. The performer? Ash Sroka. Ash has an exstensive acting background since a very early age and while Mass Effect was her first videogame she entered the industry at the level of a pro and did a fine job at it too. Since the definitive Mass Effect interviews I conducted last year I’ve been trying to interview all the actors that I didn’t get the first time. Without a doubt the most requested interview by our fans is one with Ash. Well, it’s been done, folks. It was lovely chatting with Ash who seems to be enjoying every aspect life, work, play and family to the fullest. We here at TGL wish her and her new addition to the family the very best. Thanks, Ash!
Ash- I was born in New York City. Both of my parents are actors and they tried to steer me away from the business! They told me that if there’s anything else I want to do I should do it. It was kind of hopeless though, I loved acting. I did my first professional play when I was 8 years old in New York. It was a play based in New Zealand, Ron’s Garden by Julie McKee. I had to learn a pretty hardcore Kiwi accent. That was the beginning of my exposure to dialects, which eventually led to Tali’s unidentifiable pseudo Eastern European, Quarian Gypsy accent in Mass Effect.
We moved to LA when I was 12 and I continued to act professionally throughout High School, and then got my BFA in acting from New York University, Tisch School of the Arts. I majored in experimental theatre, psychical based acting. I’m also a dancer. I started voice acting when I was young; I would go to auditions and recording sessions with my parents. I just remember being small, very very small compared to where the mic was set- smaller than I am now! I think I was around 6 or 7 when I started auditioning. I started out doing commercials and I looped a few foreign films. I’m also a little bit of an academic- I loved school!
I moved back out to LA after college to do some TV and film work. Today, as well as being an actor, I’m a mom, a wife, a dancer, and a choreographer. I love working with kids and teenagers, I love tea, babies, rain, and organizing!
Retroplayer- Ash, your first role in a videogame was Tali in Mass Effect, probably the most loved character in the entire series. How did you land your role as her?
Ash- I feel so blessed. It was such a fluke because I audition all the time for voice acting roles and this was just another audition. They don’t necessarily say anything about the project your auditioning for. I mostly audition out of my agents office or from my home. I remember the audition for Mass Effect though. I went into my agents office and I auditioned for Female Shepard, Tali and a third female character. For Tali, the character description said something like- we want a gypsy-like unidentifiable accent, a young girl going on her Pilgrimage. What I was reading was her opening speech about leaving for her pilgrimage and I remember feeling so connected. I love when I get material like that for voice acting, something really juicy that I can land in. Tali’s accent just came out of my mouth. I had a great time and that is always my goal during an audition, just to enjoy getting an opportunity to act.
When I booked the role as Tali I still didn’t know if I was going in for one day or just the one monologue I had auditioned with, so to get to do multiple sessions and to get to work with Ginny and have Tali evolve over time was something I hadn’t even considered – I am so grateful to have had this experience.
Retroplayer- So, when creating her accent did you take any inspiration from other know accents or inflections?
Ash- I’m pretty sure I was a gypsy is some past life, you know, like a traveller of some kind. So, it was my interpretation of that world. It was a lot of different ethnicities and my take on a vague eastern European accent. <laughs> I really don’t know how to verbalise it to be honest because it just kind of came out. Certain words were harder than others to say, but Tali speaks the way Tali speaks, and I can always hear her in my head.
Retroplayer- Take us through a typical day of voice recording for Tali, Ash.
Ash- Well, I come in for a 4 hour shift most of the time. It’s either a 9am to 12pm or 2pm to 6pm. I then go into the booth and I don’t get the copy of the script until I get in there. The technology is always changing because it used to be that we were handed a copy of it. Now we do it all on computer instead and we only get to see it as it appears. We don’t get to look ahead at all. I go in and say hello to everyone there. It’s been pretty much the same bunch of people over the past few years so it’s become like a little family. With Ginny I’d usually do two takes. She’d say she’d take A and then use B as a backup or vice versa and we’d just go go go. If she didn’t stop me it meant she didn’t get what she wanted and I’d do a third take, get direction, or both! Whenever we get to a new scene Ginny would explain what was going on. There are so many options in Mass Effect that some pieces would be little one liners while other sections would be much bigger. We usually do the fighting or screaming at the end of the day <laughs>. It’s definitely a lot of work but I absolutely love it. After any 4 hour session I’m wiped, I’m on my feet for 4 hours- I can’t act when I’m sitting for voice over- and you can’t move because the microphone picks up everything- I mean EVERYTHING! Stomach gurgles, my arms touching my sweatshitrt – anything! It’s very specific work and it takes a lot of concentration. I feel incredibly grateful to the writers for creating Tali, and so lucky that I got to help her come to life.
Ash- Oh my god, I just love her. The thing I like about her the most and the thing that I try and take away for myself is that she is so grounded in her beliefs but she also has a humility about her. She’s so tough and so strong and so sarcastic and direct; but we got to see in Mass Effect 2 how vulnerable she can be. I see Tali as having quietly kept the innocence she had when she first started out on her pilgrimage as she toughens up and learns how grueling the galaxy can be.
That’s something I want for myself. As things go on in the world and as I go through my life I want to hold onto that child-like wonder, my innocence and vulnerability. Actually, I think one of Tali’s biggest strengths is her vulnerability. I also really admire that she doesn’t care what people think of her. She stands up for what she believes in, she’s ready to give her life for her people, her morals. Her heart is in everything she does. And she’s a bad-ass. Love it.
Retroplayer- Tali is Quarian and due to the ever shrinking Migrant Fleet the future of her people hangs by thread both culturally and in numbers. How do you think this has impacted Talis outlook on on life?
Ash- Her life is for a greater purpose and she leads a life of service to her people. Like the rest of us, she doesn’t know how its going to end up, she does what she believes will serve the greater good. She is forced to make decisions where she truly doesn’t know if what she’s doing is the right or wrong thing, all she can do is trust her gut and pull the trigger. With the future of her people at stake I think she has learned to trust her intuition and understand the importance of every moment.
Retroplayer- Ash, what impact on Tali do you think the love interest with Shepard had?
Tali- I think we got to see her grow up and witness her sexual awakening. We knew, or at least I knew, she had that soft, feminine power in her, but we never got to see it. I think every experience makes us stronger and this relationship for Tali made her more human, more well-rounded. It added to her vulnerability but also gave her strength. Like I said before, I think this was about her being vulnerable, allowing that to happen and being soft. When you’re fighting for the survival of your people you don’t get to be soft too often.
We also got to see the pain of being confined to the suit. The writers are so clever – they put the Quarians in those suits – and like us, they walk around one way and we don’t know what’s underneath. It’s her armour and I think she has a lot of armour, because she has had to, but in those scenes we get to see what’s under all that.
Retroplayer- Ash, because Talis face is covered by a breathing mask she has no viewable face in which we can draw emotions from. Her emotions are entirely down to your voice. Is this a tough position to be in and, as an actress, how do you use your voice to compensate for the lack of a face in a character?
Ash- I don’t think it makes it tough. I don’t know if her having the mask changes much for me being an actress. I’m still giving the performance I’d give regardless. In a play or a film I wouldn’t ever think about what my face was doing – I would fight for my objective and play the truth is of the moment. I think it’s the same thing here except the truth of the moment is coming through my voice.
So it’s not harder. I play the moment in the way that’s right for the moment. That wouldn’t change if I could see her face.
Retroplayer- Do you have your own mental image of Talis face?
Ash- She feels like me so I don’t really think about it because it’s me playing her. If I was playing this role in a play or film, the role would look like me.
Retroplayer- So the Mass Effect movie is allegedly in the works, Ash. Even if they go for massive Hollywood names just for the sake of it I don’t think they have a reason to not cast you as Tali seeing as all we hear is her voice. Would you be interested in playing her on the big screen?
Ash- I would love to play her. I love Tali and we’ve been together for so many years now so it would be strange to have somebody else play her. I really hope I get that opportunity.
Retroplayer- Well, if the producers are smart they’ll give the fans what they want.
Ash- Well, I hope my work speaks for itself. It would be a great opportunity.
Retroplayer- If you didn’t provide the voice for Tali, who from the Mass Effect universe would you have liked to have portrayed instead?
Ash- EDI and Wrex!
Retroplayer- Are you a gamer yourself? If so, what do you play?
Ash- I’m not but I think gamers are awesome. I’m a smart gal but I don’t think I’d be able to play these games, to be honest. <laughs> Not only have I not played it but I actually had a nightmare about it- I dreamt that I was called back to do more Mass Effect but that I had to audition again- and when I got there I was reading for Grunt! In order to get through the audition I had to read for Grunt and play the game simultaneously! It was a horrible nightmare, I woke up in a cold sweat. <laughs>
Retroplayer- At this point in your life what is your main source of inspiration, Ash?
Ash- My son. He’s almost 10 months old and he inspires everything. He keeps me laughing and playing and reminds me how to look at the world with wonder and awe. He’s heaven.
Retroplayer- What advice would you give to any young people who wish to become a voice actor who are reading this right now?
Ash- Study acting. It’s no different, harder if anything. Everything I’ve ever learned I use all the time. Don’t do it if you’re not passionate about it- it’s a very challenging business and we’re lucky when we actually get to act.
Retoplayer- What’s next for Ash Sroka?
Ash- Well, let’s hope its the Mass Effect movie! <laughs> Baby-proofing my living room <laughs>. I’m currently writing a children’s book (inspired by my little guy) about feelings, self acceptance and self love. Other than that, I don’t know what’s next until the phone rings!
Retroplayer- Oh and for the record, Tali survived Mass Effect 2 for me!
Ash- I appreciate that. I tell ya, there are a lot of tears in that booth sometimes. I’ve had some sad story-lines to go through in both games! Thanks for keeping me alive!
Retroplayer- Ash, Tali is without a doubt the most popular character in Mass Effect. If Mass Effect 3 is the last time we see her how do you want her to be remembered?
Ash- First of all, thank you!! Second, I hope ME3 isn’t the last of Tali. Third, if it were to be the end of the road for her, I guess I would want her to be remembered as a sexy, witty, brave hero who fought for the survival of her people and knew the true meaning of love and service.
Retroplayer- And finally, do you have a message for all your fans here on TGL?
Ash- You guys are awesome. I want to apologise that I’ve apparently been so incognito. It hasn’t been for a lack of appreciation. You are the reason I was brought back in Mass Effect 2. Bioware listens to the fans. Thank you for all your kind words and support – YOU ROCK!