Loved Ali Abdul in Squid Game? Can't get enough of Nicky, the A.I. robot on Tooned In? Or are you simply curious to learn more about the inner workings of the voice acting industry?
Meet Rama Vallury, the voice behind the vision and a multifaceted artist whose eclectic exploits in today's entertainment realm are indubitably noteworthy.
A graduate of The Second City Hollywood, Rama Vallury is also known for plying his trade in music and comedy. He has contributed as one half of the bands Vallury and Butler and King Oaf and The Quarantines, as well as the comedic duo George and Vallury.
In a candid conversation with Sportskeeda's Saahil Agnelo Periwal, Rama opened up on his journey as a voice actor so far, the raging 'Dubs vs Subs' debate, and the key takeaways from his time spent traversing the spectrum of flair and foibles associated with a burgeoning voice acting industry.
Here is an excerpt from the conversation, replete with anecdotes, industry insights and more.
From Tooned In to Squid Game: Rama Vallury on 'Dubs Vs Subs', the art of voice acting and more
Q) Could you share with us some excerpts from your childhood which were instrumental in kickstarting your journey as a voice actor?
Rama: In 1990 at age 3, or so the story goes, while leaving a party at the home of family friends, I reportedly turned to the host on our way out and said, in Daffy Duck's voice, "Thanks for the hospitality!".
That's where it all really started. Cartoons have always played a large part in my life and upbringing. In our house, laughter was the rule, not the exception. I just found along the way that I had a knack for impressions.
I used this skill every time I made a phone call asking for information, "becoming" someone else.
Q) What inspired you to take up voice acting as a profession?
Rama: I firmly believe I'm 50% Muppet, 50% cartoon. Voice acting always seemed like the most fun thing to do in the world, if you could figure out your way in. However, as an Indian-American growing up in Chicago, that seemed highly unlikely.
We didn't really get to see ourselves represented here in the US on screen or in cartoons, save as caricature or background.
While in graduate school at Syracuse's SI Newhouse School of Public Communications, I came to Los Angeles on a week-long trip with some other classmates and our Professor Tom Seeley to get the lay of the land.
Through what now looks like a shocking bit of kismet, we met voice casting director Elaine Craig. She let a few of us into the booth to give voice acting a go. I took it as the opportunity it was, and fortunately impressed her.
She told me I SHOULD be a Voice Actor, told me to get a hold of her when I got to LA, and she'd introduce me to the coach she felt was perfect for me (Nancy Wolfson), she did, and here we are.
Q) Any memorable personal anecdotes or experiences during your early years?
Rama: I used to have multiple jobs at once, basically taking any gig I could get on set, in offices, running teleprompters, or driving athletes to and from airports and hotels. At the same time, I was studying and performing at The Second City Hollywood.
If I was lucky enough to get an audition sent to me by one of the many self-submission sites I was on prior to being represented, I would drive from work across LA through traffic, run into my apartment, record auditions, send them back, and then immediately turn around and head back towards Hollywood to take classes, see shows, or perform.
Or if that wasn't feasible, I'd record in storage rooms, parking garages in my car, closets, or one time, memorably under a bed in a hotel. I frankly had trouble saying "no" or recognizing that I had the ability to say "no" when I was asked to work a gig, see a show, or perform.
I viewed my day jobs as an unfortunate inconvenience to my creative life, and that I was mortgaging my time to pay rent, buy groceries, you know, survive.
I put intense pressure on myself to make sure I used all my "free time" to make progress in my creative life so I could get out of day jobs as quickly as possible. I averaged less than four hours of sleep a night from approximately 2008-2018. It was a horribly unhealthy way to live that I don't recommend to anyone.
Q) According to you, what are the key principles one must keep in mind when it comes to the art of voice acting?
Moreover, apart from talent, what must one ideally possess in order to succeed ?
Rama: You must build a strong foundation of understanding before you can actively tackle the world of Voice Acting.
By that, I mean you need to understand microphone technique, vocal placement, how scripts/copy are written and why, industry trends in commercial, video game, audiobooks, and animation. You also have to know your own strengths and limitations.
You have to be honest with yourself, or you could seriously do damage to your instrument (i.e. your voice). You also have to understand that rejection is a key part of the business, but it's a different kind of rejection than traditional on-camera or on-stage audition rejection.
You are quite literally shouting into the void. You have to simultaneously be your most sincere critic but also your biggest cheerleader. You have to put in the fabled 10,000 hours and more, be sure that you are putting your best work forward, and then in an instant, let it all go.
You'll rarely get feedback. More often than not, you will hear nothing at all.
Most importantly, be kind to yourself. You are going to get better. It just takes a lot of time and practice.
Q) What is your opinion on the age-old debate of Dubs v Subs in foreign language films and content at large ?
Rama: You don't HAVE to watch dubs. But you COULD. As a child of immigrants, I grew up watching international films, particularly those from India, comfortably with or without subtitles. I also used to watch old martial arts films or Anime with dubs since they were wildly available that way.
I personally prefer watching live action foreign language films, TV, and content in the original language with subtitles to immerse myself as fully in the experience as I possibly can. I understand, however, that is not possible for many people for a variety of personal reasons, particularly accessibility.
Simultaneously, as an animation voiceover artist, I also love watching dubs to hear the variety of interpretations to the animated art. My honest take is: watch it however you want, just watch it.
If you'd like, watch it both ways. It's important to expand our horizons and to engage international art with an open mind and heart. Our stories are far more similar than they are different.
Q) Apart from voice-over work, you also seamlessly dabble in music as well as stand-up comedy.
If not either of these, what would you have chosen to be ?
Rama: Until 2009, I was on track to become a History Professor specializing in a field I called Military History and the Commodification of Cultural Memory. My undergraduate honors thesis was written on how the meaning of the Indian Rebellion of 1857 changed or was interpreted over time.
It may come as a shock to most, but I didn't actively start performing (apart from school bands or orchestra) until I was a radio DJ and commercial director at WPGU 107.1 while attending the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
All of my creative endeavors up until that point were largely kept private in the form of writing short stories, plays, poems, or creating shorts with my friends and family.
You must give yourself permission to try. You can come up with hundreds of reasons why you shouldn't try something. You only need one to give anything a go: ask yourself why not? At this point, I do as many things as I am interested in.
If I didn't give myself permission, I'd likely be a History Professor right now.
Q) Any voice artists/impressionists you admire and consider influences upon your work?
Rama: Rob Paulsen has always been, and continues to be, one of the greatest influences on me as a voice artist. I had the good fortune to tell him that face-to-face at the book signing for his memoir "Voice Lessons" in 2019.
I walked up with my copy in hand and said:
"I have no idea what to say right now. You're the biggest reason I do what I do."
"Oh yeah? What do you do?"
"I'm a professional voice actor."
"Get outta town!" with the biggest smile on his face.
We spent the next 10 minutes trading stories and him giving me free advice. He treated me like a friend and colleague rather than just a fan, and I cannot underscore how much his kindness and support in that short interaction raised my confidence and helped propel me forward in my career.
I try my best to follow his example and remember his motto:
"Laughter is the best medicine, and the cool thing is, you can't OD and the refills are free."
Dana Carvey has also had a massive impact on me. His sheer range and talent as an impressionist has influenced me since I was a kid.
I lack the words to express how much Robin Williams and his work influence me. I've always aimed to be a vocal gymnast of his caliber, seamlessly shifting from accent, affectation, or characterization in a single breath. I suspect I'll spend the rest of my life chasing that.
You can also add to the list my friend James Adomian, Peter Serafinowicz, Danny Kaye, Peter Sellers, and of course, Mel Blanc.
Q) Any books, programs or works of art which have influenced your work as a voice-over artist?
Rama: Rob Paulsen's book Voice Lessons and podcast Talkin' Toons, the podcast All Over VO with Kiff VH, the documentary I Know That Voice from the legendary John DiMaggio, and Robin Williams in Mrs. Doubtfire, Good Morning, Vietnam, and Aladdin are constantly on my mind.
Music is incredibly important to me and I count The Beatles, A Tribe Called Quest, Kishore Kumar, Mohd. Rafi, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, The Rolling Stones, REM, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, David Bowie, Prince, BB King, and Frank Sinatra all as major influences.
Honestly, anything can be a source of influence or inspiration. I've come up with voices after riding airport buses in Dallas, trains in India, walking into cornershops in the UK, living in Paris, or just interacting with anyone I've ever met whether in the US or abroad. Keep your ears and heart open at all times.
Q) Do you feel the authenticity of a character is somewhat 'lost in translation' when it comes to the art of dubbing ?
Rama: As dubbing artists, we do our best to match the performance of our on-screen counterparts.
There are certainly going to be elements that change in the translation or the delivery to make the audio match the visual, but we endeavor to make it as authentic as possible.
There are nuances in language and culture that cannot be conveyed even in subtitles or captions, so what you hope is that your performance complements rather than detracts from the original.
Q) Are there any unique prep methods you follow while approaching your respective characters/scripts ?
Rama: I try to figure out what I refer to as "the grounding reality" for each character. It could be something physical: how they stand, the shape of facial features, etc. It could be something emotional.
I try to internalize it, inhabit it, and make it essential to the performance. If I'm ever pulled out of that place, I take a moment and recenter myself there.
Since music is so important to me, I'll figure out what the favorite song of any character is and that helps me unlock a lot of their worldview and personality.
If it's a character or cartoony voice, I'll sing that song out loud and play with the vocalization, like someone singing carefree in their car or shower, wherever they feel most secure and unobserved.
Q) What's your favourite/ most exciting thing about being a part of the voice-over industry?
Rama: It's the people. It's the community. Working with heroes of mine. There is comfort and joy in being surrounded by other voiceover industry professionals. We're all just big kids trying to make each other laugh by doing silly voices, collaborating on silly cartoons.
We all have a spirit of play and truly are rooting for each other. As Conan O'Brien says, "I bow at the altar of silliness".
We take ourselves far less seriously than many, and as you can see on Voiceover Twitter, are ready to help each other out and raise each other up.
Q) Do you plan on branching out into avenues such as podcasts, audiobooks or beyond cinema anytime soon?
Rama: I'm a creative workaholic always looking for the next thing, so there's hardly an avenue I haven't branched out into. I often guest on podcasts like Who Would Win with James Gavsie and Ray Stakenas.
I have narrated a few audiobooks, most notably the hit Gold Diggers by Sanjena Sathian (an excellent book written by an even nicer person).
I am constantly working with my key comedic creative partners like Sean George (my partner in George & Vallury), Aaron Denius (author of Gen.Sys and 80), the excellent writer Michael Chau, and the hilarious Rashida "Sheedz" Olayiwola.
Musically, I have two bands with my collaborator Maxwell "Bunny" Butler and we are in a constant state of writing, recording, and producing music as our bands, King Oaf and the Quarantines (more comedically oriented) and Vallury & Butler (our more serious side).
I also act on camera, dabble in plays, and can sometimes still be found in comedy clubs.
Q) Tell us about any upcoming projects in the pipeline or on the near horizon?
I currently can be seen (or heard) as Nicky the Robot, host of Tooned In on Nickelodeon, in the English dubbing cast for Squid Game, and on a number of animated shows like Baby Shark's Big Show! and Mira, Royal Detective.
The good news? I've been working a lot lately. The bad news? I can't tell you on what. Yet. So stay tuned!
Q) If a biopic were to be made on you, whom would you want to narrate the story of your life?
Rama: Amitabh Bachchan.
Q) Share with us a couple tips and suggestions for budding voice-over artists in the making.
Rama: First off, it's Voice Acting with a capital A rather than voiceover. You are an actor. Your voice is your instrument. Voiceover is a task you perform.
Voice Acting is the job, it's the career, it's the art. You have to take it as seriously as any other discipline.
I'm not sure who started this rumor, but on behalf of voice acting professionals everywhere, let me just say this: Whoever said voice acting is a great way to make extra money doesn't know what they are talking about. It's a rumor, it's a myth, and one that continually is perpetuated.
It's a career, it's a discipline, and one that requires your attention, your effort, and your heart. It's not a get-rich-quick scheme. It can be lucrative over the long term, it can be a career.
You have to be willing to submit hundreds or thousands of times before you make any money. You have to be willing to buy the gear, pay for classes, and face rejection. There are no shortcuts here.
The best advice I can give? Be kind to yourself. You are enough. Give yourself time. Give yourself permission to fail. Give yourself permission to succeed.
And remember: Have fun. This is a silly way to make a living, and you should truly love it!