Interview with Laura Bailey: from The Last of Us Part 2 to Critical Role

We spoke with comedian Laura Bailey about her roles in video games and her success in the live-action RPG series Critical Role.

Laura Bailey was already an anime star, but this was her first time landing a commercial. Unfortunately, there was someone for the ride: a large pimple in the center of his forehead. There was nothing to hide it.

“I get in the makeup chair and they look at me,” laughs Bailey. “They’re like, ‘This thing is huge. What did you do?'”

People are whispering, everyone is looking at her, and she overhears the director yelling, “I can’t work like this!”

“It was mortifying,” she says.

Awkward moments are part of the job when you’re an actor.

During one memorable audition, Bailey recalls seeing a famous actor throw snacks in the air and catch them in her mouth as she attempted to audition. When she landed a role in Star Wars Battlefront, it wasn’t until she was cast that she realized her character was Aqualish, a small alien with tusks instead of teeth. As a performer who doesn’t usually play non-human roles, walking around like a deranged penguin wasn’t on his bingo card.

During her senior year of high school, Bailey was voted the “friendliest” and she often spent time alone, away from her classmates. Ironic for someone who wanted to be a biologist because of their fascination with how all things are connected.

Years later, she auditioned for a role in a play on a whim. Although she didn’t land the role, the lead actor praised her audition and set her on the path to pursuing her as a profession. Her first gig was with Funimation, which handled the English dubs for a wide range of anime series, including Dragon Ball Z. She worked there for years, on dozens of series.

Bailey’s IMDB page is an almost endless scroll with nearly 500 credits, much of it anime, lots of video games.

Her first video game gig was for Bloodrayne, where she played a Blade-esque vampire slayer who is half-vampire herself. When she listens to his work on those early games now, she finds herself cringing. “How did I get the job? she asks herself. “I didn’t even know how to do the combat reactions.”

Of course, that was another time…

“Bloodrayne had a Playboy spread,” Bailey says. “And when we were making a lot of reaction noises for her, they wanted it to sound slightly sexual in nature. It was like that at the time. I didn’t even blink.

It wasn’t until years later that Bailey really thought about her characters critically. At the time, she was living next door to fellow comedian Troy Baker – one of her best friends – and she recalls a conversation they shared.

“I don’t remember what he was working on, but it was an awesome project, and I was playing a girlfriend or wife character, I don’t remember,” she explains. “I was telling him how hard it was because he always had to come out for these really great roles and I was always coming out for the girlfriend role. He didn’t even get it. Like, he never had it seen from that angle. It’s so cool now to see, just ten years later, how different it has become.

Another revelation was moving to Los Angeles. Back in Dallas, the Funimation gig kept her busy. In LA, nobody cared. “I couldn’t get into any studio,” she says.

Final Fantasy 13 provided her big break, in which she played the role of the protagonist’s sister, Serah Farron. It was as if she had finally been accepted into the city where acting career dreams so often go to die.

These days, Bailey is a huge success. Even outside of acting, she’s enjoying indie success thanks to her role in the live-action RPG series Critical Role, but she’s also landed huge roles in triple-A games. Perhaps most significant is her turn as newcomer Abby in The Last of Us Part 2.

Abby’s introduction to the game sees her murdering the original game’s protagonist with a golf club – one of the most controversial scenes in modern video games. Later, the player takes control of Abby and sees things from her perspective. Bailey’s performance, which takes the player from hate to admiration, is stunning.

Prior to launch, however, some of the cutscenes were leaked online, out of context. Without a chance to see events unfold as planned, and without giving Abby a chance to shine as the protagonist of the game’s second half, some of the audience immediately made up their minds – they hated her. This hatred has spilled over into the real world.

“It was a tough time,” Bailey says. “It was just when Covid was hitting. It created the worst storm that could have happened. I talked to [game director] Neil Druckmann, I spoke to [co-star] Ashley Johnson and I have been a little off the internet for a while. There were a lot of things that came up about that scene and just a lot of demeaning messages that were directed at me. I still see the vestiges of it online. Pretty much everything I post there will be someone posting something about this game.”

Bailey, who was heavily pregnant while filming scenes for the game, had become a target of harassment. Around a video game. It was difficult to separate work from real life.

A big part of her acting process is forgetting herself when she’s in a role. She thinks of them beyond the page – the music they love, the food they eat – and tries to fully embrace them, solidifying her understanding of the character. It’s a process that helped with Critical Role, where Bailey and other video game actors play pen-and-paper RPGs to an audience.

“Every week we live in a different person,” Bailey explains. “So we play this character again and again and again. It was so much easier to fall into a character. Thanks to Critical Role, my game in other projects has become so much stronger simply because it’s easier to tap into emotions. You must be able to shift into high gear so quickly. We’re going to start a game where we left off on this really emotional moment – someone died after a great traumatic moment – and you have to instantly, after this silly intro, go to “Oh, ****, I” I cry again.'”

Although she still plans to continue acting, Critical Role became a huge success. Bailey is a million miles away from knocking on doors as a newcomer to Los Angeles, and she’s finally in charge of who can see her when she has an annoying pimple in the middle of her head.

Written by Kirk McKeand on behalf of GL HF.

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