Patricia Summersett, AKA Princess Zelda, Has Some Sage Advice for Aspiring Actors
In this job, I occasionally get to talk to some big-name Hollywood talent, both behind the scenes and in front of the camera, but I rarely get to talk to royalty. So imagine my surprise when I was offered a chance to interview Princess Zelda herself, as voiced by the lovely and talented Patricia Summersett in the Nintendo Switch debut game, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Not only did Summersett give voice to the titular princess during the all-important cutscenes (a first for this franchise), she played a huge role in the game’s story and, as a result, every player’s experience.
So it’s no surprise that Summersett is already enjoying her “extraordinary” experiences with Zelda fans all around the world, from Sacramento, to Wichita, to Kuwait City. But the next year or so is also shaping up to be a rather interesting one for Summersett, who not only has more video games, TV work, and indie movies coming up, but also stars in Darren Aronofsky‘s mother!, due out this October. We chatted about that and more during a recent phone interview, which included some very down-to-Earth advice for up-and-coming actors. But first, I got to know Summersett a little better.
Though playing the role of Zelda is clearly a feather in her cap, Summersett has also voiced roles in such games as Deus Ex, For Honor, and the Rainbow Six and Assassin’s Creed franchises. But I wanted to know just how far back her video game familiarity went.
What was the first video game you remember playing as a kid?
Patricia: Summersett: Super Mario Bros. I have three sisters, so we would all play together. We were given allotted times to play video games [laughs] and then the rest of the time we’d have to be outdoors or studying or something.
Summersett also mentioned playing Nintendo’s track-and-field games using the Power Pad, a shared experience we reminisced over for a few minutes. That, of course, led me to ask:
Do you consider yourself a gamer?
I’m not really a gamer, to be honest, [not] a hardcore gamer, I’d say. It’s more of a recreational thing that has come back into my life with work-related stuff. I have played a lot of games as time has gone by, I’ve played games from the Zelda series, like Legend of Zelda, Ocarina of Time, Twilight Princess, and these games have come my way, and now Breath of the Wild. Various games, I’ll dabble, but I’m not a hardcore gamer.
Sometimes I’m hard on myself for that, but then I think, I really wouldn’t be doing the job I’m doing if I was a hardcore gamer because my journey has been through all the other things that I’ve done, like TV, film, and music. No regrets, but gaming is definitely becoming more of my future, so I’ve started to take that up more.
Have you played Breath of the Wild?
It’s been fun to watch all of the cut-scenes, but I’m really still at the beginning of it. My friends are further along in the game than I am because I keep getting taken away from it because of my schedule. I had planned to beat it by E3, but I should probably let that go because however many hundreds of hours I spend playing this game are going to happen when they happen. But I’m loving it so far. I’m really enjoying cooking and the cooking music, the puzzles, the general changes in the weather. It’s amazing being able to travel to all the different places in this world.
Actors, whether they’re pursuing live-action projects, video games, or animation, rarely take the same path; the same is true for those who specialize in voice acting. I was curious to know about Summersett’s own journey into video games.
As soon as the opportunity came up, I thought it was the most exciting possibility. When I was in school for theater, voice classes were part of what we were doing and I took a shine to it and loved it immediately. I pursued it harder than most of my classmates did; I definitely had an immediate passion for it. It was a natural extension of what I was doing, which tended to be voice-heavy in general. That was my first exposure to it.
So while I was in school, I started to audition for every voice-related project I could, assuming that it would be a large part of my career. And it has. I did a bunch of indie games before I moved on to AAA games and was riveted by the process of working with a group of people who had this specialty that I could in no way ever pretend to have, the knowledge of technology and computer coding and all these things that are quite a mystery to me. So to be able to bring a human element into it, that is a fascinating thing for me to do as an actor.
And just like one actor’s path differs from the next, opportunities come in all shapes and sizes, and at very strange times. Here’s how Summersett found herself unexpectedly auditioning for the role of Zelda:
It came at a time in my career where I had just made a really big leap, from the point of the industry, for new adventures and new projects. I had moved to LA and it was one of the first things that I auditioned for, funny enough. It just happened that way. I look back on it and just go, “Oh my gosh!” It’s wild to think about.
My sister had lived in LA for some time as a singer/songwriter and helped me distribute my stuff through her contacts. From there, I got an audition for it, having no idea what it was. I prepped it hoping to make a very good first impression, did the callback, and then eventually found out afterwards that it was Zelda. I was just mind-blown.
Admittedly, stepping into the royal slippers of one of pop culture and video gaming’s most popular characters ever must have been a daunting prospect:
It was such a big concept to digest, but at the same time I knew I just needed to get to work and take the remaining time I had before really delving into the main work to just do research and do what I would do for any role, which is to study the narrative, the universal themes, find out how I connected to the character particularly, and then how to embody it. I come from a theater background, so it doesn’t matter what I’m doing, my first impulse is to embody a character. Every character speaks, they’ll have a certain posture, they’ll hold their energy in a certain place in their body; I always come from a body experience first.
If you’re wondering whether or not Zelda’s royal status had anything to do with Summersett’s performance, or how the accomplished actor channeled the eternally youthful princess:
I’ve definitely pulled from the ways she’s been presented in the past. She’s an extremely sophisticated princess while at the same time being playful and hilarious. I think those different parts of her have shown through in moments up until now. She’s just a very dynamic person, she’s also a 17-year-old; those things are universal and easy to relate to.
But while Summersett’s time in the booth for Zelda is likely behind her–she unfortunately couldn’t comment on any upcoming DLC material or extra content–she now has access to a lifetime’s worth of experiences thanks to the Zelda fandom:
My interactions have been extraordinary so far, and I know that a lot more are coming, so I certainly look forward to it. I just got back from Kuwait City and it was my first convention after the release of this game. It’s hard to describe how amazing the journey there was and interacting with fans in the Middle East. It was truly incredible. Of course, it makes you really realize how far-reaching the game is when you’re speaking with people in a place that you could never have imagined you’d get invited to for something like this. You’re just geeking out over the same universal stories and the same images and the same games and receiving fan art and just having a great time with people. It really is a gift.
Here’s an idea of where you can see Summersett at upcoming fan conventions:
I plan on being at several. I’m hoping to travel far and wide with it. Several are set up: I’m going to be at Sac-Anime [in Sacramento, CA this September]; Wichita, KS has just been announced; I’m really just at the beginning stages of what the announcements are going to be. I’ll probably be at E3, hopefully everywhere!
For those of you who are interested in voice-acting, here’s how Summersett sees the similarities and differences between voicework and live-action performances:
It depends on the type of game and the type of project within each realm, because there is so much crossover. I find that they all work very well together. I love being able to do all of them. For example, a more quiet, detailed video game, like Breath of the Wild, dubbing work, it reminds me of singing an intimate song in studio, whereas doing the kind of heavy shouting for a different kind of project might be similar to stage work. I do find that there’s a lot of crossover and it all comes from a full-body experience.
Something I really enjoy about voice-acting is that the pressure isn’t on appearance. You sit in a very quiet, intimate studio and it’s solitary work. It’s so delightful. I really like being in front of an expensive mic that picks up the grains of your voice. I’m always amazed of the technology I’m surrounded by, specifically with voice work and video game work.
Working with Nintendo is going to be a highlight in my career across the board. The fact that these things can happen with voice work make me love voice work so much.
As I mentioned earlier, Summersett has a number of video game roles coming up, as well as some high-profile feature work, such as Aronofsky’s mother! Here’s what she could tease about the Oscar-nominated director’s newest project:
I’ve had a very interesting year! That project is long done now and I’m just waiting for it to be released. As far as any content regarding the role, I can’t speak to it. So much of the beauty of the process is the secrecy and the time to incubate what they’re doing. I think Darren Aronofsky works that way. The process is very strong and it’s very artistic. There’s a big reliance on the artistic part of it.
I can say that it was an immense pleasure to be on set and that the people I was with on set on the days that I was able to film … it was like being in a masterclass. It was really exciting. It was like one of those highlights of just having the privilege to be part of that space and that storytelling. It was really cool.
Summersett also has a number of indie projects coming up:
Flip the Bird, that’s really fun. Some friends of mine, Rebecca Croll and Adam LeBlanc, who made their first feature and they’ve been developing it for years. That was exciting to be a part of and I’m looking forward to seeing the results of that as well.
Maz, that is a very fun indie film developed from a piece of theater I’d been involved in and got recast, interestingly, as the young mother within it, whereas before I had played Maz on stage. For the film version, I ended up getting cast as the mother, which was a very strange and exciting flip. It’s a project that’s quite dear to my heart, that particular one. I’m looking forward to that being released.
It deals with the idea of PTSD without hitting it over the head. The filmmaker, Federico Hidalgo, he’s done quite well on the indie circuit, so I imagine that when it does get released it’ll do a festival run. But he’s one to take his time and his process is very important. There is no rush in dishing it out on a timeline. When he feels it’s ready, it will be released.
I just did a short film called Fareed which should be out in the next six months. I’ve got some TV work coming up as well and some new video games, which I can’t announce unfortunately, but I’m very excited about them. They’ve been such a pleasure to work on with motion capture involved. I’ve done a fair bit of motion capture; I’ve done the full performance capture for two games in the Assassin’s Creed series. I’m working on something else with motion capture right now. It’s the kind of work I enjoy because it’s very technical. And, once again, you’re literally in a suit of technology, which is a pretty fun playground.
So we’ve covered video games, TV, and feature films, but the multi-talented Summersett also has ongoing musical projects:
I’m very excited about that and looking forward to sharing it with everybody. I’m looking forward to meeting people at conventions; I know it’s going to be a big part of my year and my learning curve in the gaming world. I really enjoy meeting cosplayers; that’s really cool.
As you can see, Summersett has quite a bit of experience from all across the creative world, so I would have been remiss if I didn’t ask her about the lessons she’d learned and what she wished she had known when starting out.
I think some of the important things to remember in this career, because it is very up and down, you need to find a way through it that keeps you steady and keeps you healthy. You have to have a sound mind and body, to not only maintain yourself through this kind of work but also to maintain yourself through the lifestyle that this career demands. You have to drop everything and do an 8 or 15-page audition the next day, and you have to memorize that, and you have to find a way to do that. Things that can really throw you off schedule. It’s important that you find a healthy way through it for yourself so that you have the stamina.
Also, to be patient. Be patient through the process because it takes a lot of years and you have a lot of highs and lows, but it balances out in the end. You have to enjoy it, you have to inject everything with love. Otherwise, there’s no point.
Sage advice from Princess Zelda herself. Be sure to keep an eye out for Summersett in upcoming video games, TV series, feature films, and a fan convention near you!