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Don't Run Away From Your Emotions,
But Tap Them Wisely To Voice Scripts

By Paul Strikwerda
Voice Actor

For most of my life, I have been running away from my emotions.

I grew up believing that showing emotions was a sign of weakness. Strong people keep everything inside. They don’t lose their temper. They don’t act impulsively.

Strong people are always in control. Strong people stay detached in order to make rational decisions. They look at facts and disregard feelings.

In my old-fashioned model of the world, it was okay for women to be emotional. Being strong was masculine, and I wanted to be a "real man,” whatever that meant.


Looking back, this attitude of "nothing affects me” might have been a coping mechanism that helped me deal with life issues. Emotional detachment was a protective wall that helped me survive.

But it also made it hard for me and others to connect with the real, vulnerable me. And it went deeper.

The fact that I wasn’t letting the pain in, also subdued the pleasure. Without lows there were no big highs. Because I felt the need to stay calm and collected, I lost a part of my enthusiasm and spontaneity.

Deep inside, I was fearful. What would happen if I would take off the lid that kept my emotions at bay? Would people still like me? Would I like myself?

At this point you might wonder what all of this has to do with voice acting. Stay with me. I’ll get to that in a minute or two.


It took me several decades and lots of soul-searching to discover that daring to be vulnerable can be a sign of strength.

The world wasn’t going to crash down on me just because I showed some emotion. Tears can be cleansing. Laughter can be liberating. Hugs can be healing.

Keeping my feelings to myself had left me lonely. When I finally started opening up to people, it became easier for people to reach out and open up to me.

It was freeing to be able to tap into my anger and frustration. In the past, bitterness and resentment would fester inside and grow. Inward anger would lead to darkness and depression.

Once the wall had been broken down, I felt light and alive.


I wasted so much energy on keeping the lid closed. Today, I use that energy to move forward, and I spend much of my life following my gut feeling.

Life has become more intense, and I’ve become a sentimental wuss!

Professionally speaking, being more easily affected by my emotions has made me more effective and less effective. Let me explain.


As a (voice) actor, I believe it is vital that we can tap into a whole range of emotions.

I often compare it to the colors of a painter’s palette or the instruments in an orchestra. The more colors or instruments we have at our disposal, the greater our dramatic range.

If we wish to convey genuine enthusiasm to our audience, we must access that state ourselves first, in order to be convincing.

The same is true for other emotions such as disbelief, amazement, rage, being heartbroken, in love, feeling rejected, et cetera. When our words, our tonality and our body language all say the same thing, we become believable.

However, we cannot unleash those raw emotions unfiltered and unpolished. That’s where we become ineffective.


Acting is a most selfless profession. It can never be about ego.

We don’t serve ourselves. We serve the authors, the screenwriters and the playwrights. It requires a detached involvement. If we do it well enough, the audience will believe that we are the character we portray.

In order to create that character, we need a frame of reference. It can be completely imaginary, or we can tap into our life experiences. 


Our emotions are like a goldmine. We can delve into it, but we must transform the gold ore into something we can melt and mold according to our desire and design.

As a (voice) actor, we must channel and manage these emotions to create the guise of spontaneity and authenticity. We don’t act out reality. We’re merely the creators of something that looks and sounds like it.


While we personify the characters we play, I believe it’s healthy to keep an intimate distance to them, if only to preserve our own sense of self.

Without emotion, there is no character, but if we become too emotionally invested, we may cross the line between reality and fiction.

We all know celebrities who have become their characters. Wherever they go, they’ve always got it turned on. I know a few voice actors who can’t stop doing funny voices or strange accents no matter where they are. They have forgotten the difference between playing a character and being a character.


There’s another reason why we need to keep an intimate distance to our copy and character.  If we allow ourselves to be overtaken by personal grief, joy or disappointment, it can easily lead to overacting. 

Here’s my rule of thumb: The more dramatic the language and the more powerful the images, the more we must restrain ourselves as voice-overs.

Otherwise, our delivery could be overemotional and could become a distraction.


When I decide how to approach a particular script, I ask myself:
  • For what purpose was this written?
  • What are the intentions of the author or the client?
  • How can I best communicate these intentions without me getting in the way? 
I no longer run away from my emotions. They’re my friends. Being able to tap into them has strengthened me as a voice actor and it has made my life a lot richer.


But like any color on a painter’s palette, there is a place and a time to use them.

Sometimes I listen to an audition I just recorded and I know something’s missing. It sounds too detached. 

When that happens, I tell myself: "Once more, with feeling.” Sometimes I hear myself overdoing it. I sound too sentimental.   When that happens, I hear Arnold Schwarzenegger in a scene from Kindergarten Cop, telling me the following:

"It’s time now, to turn this mush into muscles!”
Paul Strikwerda is a 25-year veteran of the voice over industry whose Nethervoice service features German and Dutch voice overs, translation and evaluation services. Born in Holland, he has worked for Dutch national and international radio, the BBC and American Public Radio. Although 90% of his work is in English, Strikwerda also records in Dutch, German and French. Clients include Novartis, Johnson & Johnson, and the Discovery Channel. He also publishes an informative and entertaining blog, Double Dutch.

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Comments (2)
Jermaine Singleton
7/16/2013 at 3:49 AM
Very informative and real, thank you for sharing.
jennifer dixon
6/20/2013 at 9:30 AM
As usual, very well said, Paul. I am currently taking a Meisner technique class which is invaluable for all the above reasons you have stated. Emotions are key, however they have to be as true and honest and in the moment as possible without crossing the line into 'obvious acting,' which makes the character unreal/not wholly true - akin to one 'getting in the way' of the audience's enjoyment. Always enjoy your 'stuff' Paul. Have a great day!
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