credit: Andrew Ogilvy Photography
Everyone has a party trick, but Lizzie Waterworth-Santo’s is more interesting than most; with a few words she can literally make jaws drop and cause the room to erupt into squeals of delight. For she is the voice of Horrid Henry – the trouble-making (but quite sweet really) animated character kids can’t get enough of.
She discovered a natural flair for voices when she was at school, and used to delight her friends with impersonations of her teachers. She also discovered she was very good at mimicking different accents, but it wasn’t until she watched the movie Mrs Doubtfire, where legendary comedian Robin Williams played both a male and and female character, that she realised voice acting was an actual profession.
As Lizzie herself says: ‘That was the moment where I really, really, really, really wanted to do that as my job.’
So how did she go from playground mimic, to one of the most recognisable voices in the UK?
You mentioned being a natural at impersonations, but is there any training or a particular course voice actors also have to complete?
There isn’t one set way to get into voiceovers: some voice actors don’t do any training but get lucky, some go straight to drama school after leaving school, where you get voice coaching as part of the course/degree. I did a degree at Kings College, London called ‘English Language & Communication’ so lots of studying language and linguistics, so learning about how we use our voices.
In the case of voice acting is it common that a female will play a male role, or vice versa?
You can be asked and need to be prepared to do anything – male, female or even animals! In my experience, more often than not in cartoons, women tend to play boys’ roles as it doesn’t strain the register so much as it does when a man voices a boy, so sounds natural. But a woman playing a man is hard, as the deep voice causes the voice to strain so makes it sound unnatural and can even hurt your voice. Crossovers happen a lot though.
When you get the description for a character, can you hear their voice in your head before you even try to verbalise it?
Yes. With Henry I had the voice in my head very quickly, so it felt very natural when I spoke like him. Sometimes though it takes time (especially if you don’t know much about the character) to start visualising what they look like (which is something I always do), then playing with the voice to get it to a place where you think it’s become that made-up character you have in your head: once you have that cemented you don’t forget that voice, you just keep that person’s image in your head.
Do you ever overhear real people’s voices, or a particularly cadence, and store it away for future characters?
Yes I’ve done that a few times. I love hearing interesting voices and then trying to match some aspect of that voice which stands out and it’s great fun finding new voices from real people. Also impersonating famous people’s voices is fun (I’ve been told I do a good Clarice Starling)!
Do you enjoy the reactions of people when you’re revealed as the voice of Horrid Henry?
Yes, people get very surprised and excited which is lovely, and can be very funny if I suddenly talk as Henry. Sometimes with smaller children it can be quite a shock for them – but then they get very excited.
What’s your most important piece of advice for kids who’d love to get into voice acting?
Being a voiceover artist is very competitive as you have to audition each time for a role. My advice is to practice doing voices that stand out from voices others can do. What makes your voice special? Can you do any accents? Do you have a good reading voice? You don’t even have to be able to voice an accent perfectly, but it is important to stand out from others so practise, have fun and be really confident and who knows- you may come up with a voice no one has ever done before!
If you could voice ANY character, which would it be?
Growing up, I always wanted to do the voice of Zippy in the children’s programme ‘Rainbow’. I’d love for there to be a finding Nemo/Dory cartoon series made and play Nemo, and lots of the female characters too.
Horrid Henry fans will be thrilled to know that 42 brand new episodes have been created (bringing the total number to 250). Some have already been released on Netflix (search Horrid Henry) and eager fans will be able to catch the entire new series early next year – first on Netflix, then on Nickelodeon.
• read about our Perfectly Horrid Day – our sneak peek at the new Horrid Henry series, and the people behind the familiar voices.